California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) has just made announced it will fund a minor in genocide studies in the Ethnic Studies Department and add a Native American professor to the History Department. In the wake of this victory, let us consider the significance of the resistance of Chiitaanibah Johnson, the Maidu/Diné.
The public response to news of her treatment gained international importance as seen by the spread of the story amongst Native Americans, social media, and news agencies from Al Jazeera to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Johnson disagreed with her history professor on his verbal dismissal of the concept of Indian genocide. She brought the issue to his attention asking for acknowledgement of her position for which she brought documentation. As tension progressed, he told her to leave the class. People may dispute the order of events and their interpretation. Nevertheless, she became a symbol for many about the college experience and its structural contradictions. The world watched. Whose version of history is accepted? What input are students allowed? How are students to be treated in the classroom? How are Native-American students treated?
Let me reiterate the importance of Johnson. What I have heard again and again at the related gatherings in the support of Johnson are the memories of inter-generational trauma that Native Americans experience. As students, they have been caught in machinery of multiple institutions of repression, including the infamous Indian schools that historically murdered their cultures and erased their languages. Current education systems marginalize and silence their presence. Miseducation and mistreatment linger in many forms.
The word for this is cultural genocide.
The G-word, genocide, will now be discussed openly. This is progress. These concerns about the Native-American struggle must be acknowledged, and native peoples must be heard not disdained. Their numbers must no longer be attenuated in the university by biased attitudes and by antiquated paternalism.
The worst thing the university can do now is to forget that many are still watching and organizing on campus and beyond. In her honor, we have organized the Indigenous Day of Resistance celebration at CSUS Quad on October 12, formerly known as Columbus Day. signed, Diana Tumminia, Ph.D. Sacramento California