Illuminating conversations were sparked Thursday at Mohawk activist John Kane’s first guest lecture at Burning Books, a radical bookstore on the West Side of Buffalo. Kane’s two-hour long talk, sharing the same name as his radio show, “Let’s Talk Native,” was long-awaited and much-anticipated by Buffalonians and bookstore patrons.
Every moment was packed with truth-telling. Kane didn’t so much as stop for a sip of water the entire evening. Topics ranged from sports teams usurping Native imagery to the treachery of all U.S. presidents. Throughout Kane’s talk he returned to the topic of statesmanship and the power of conversation. He expressed the dire need for the constant creation of platforms where honest conversation and debate can be had, free from rancor or deception.
Regarding the controversy surrounding the misappropriation of Native imagery in sports, Kane had this to say: “There’s no sense in talking about the Washington Redskins… if you’re not going to talk about what’s wrong with [the name]. What’s wrong with it is the racism. The fact that we are treated as if we are not here. And that American policy supports that… That’s why we can have federal agents come on to our territory—because we are treated with such disregard…This is why the conversation has to happen.”
Since authentic accounts of “U.S. history” are omitted and withheld from the majority of us in our formal education, event attendees, most of whom were non-Native, seemed hungry to learn the truth, and deeply appreciative of the information being offered by Kane.
The audience appeared riveted and moved through a gamut of emotions, as Kane’s presentation style shifted from somber reflection to biting sarcasm, injected with momentary and, at times, much needed comic relief.[hr] [columns] [column width=”1/2″]
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Ongoing oppression suffered by Native communities is far from comical, yet Kane offered some perspective, explaining why he believes it necessary for those who actively participate in the struggle for sovereignty and liberation to keep a firm grip on their sense of humor. Kane stated, “I try to make sure that, even as I’m talking about something really serious, there’s room to smile.”
Cultivating an atmosphere that allows for frank and respectful discussion of such horrific oppression and violence is a rare skill — one that John Kane seems to have mastered. As the formal talk concluded, guests lingered and an informal discussion began between Kane and event attendees. The discussion continued even as the bookstore was closing, with participants relocating onto the sidewalk outside to continue the conversation.
A question was raised regarding how non-Native individuals can get involved and show support to Native communities. That question was answered, as several attendees began to lay the foundation for the formation of a support group to be held at Burning Books. It was suggested that the group gather regularly at the bookstore, and focus its efforts in order to raise awareness, encourage participation and organize networking opportunities to assist local Native organizations and initiatives.
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