The Daily Northwestern

Indigenous professor discusses Native American civil rights, citizenship

Emily Chaiet, Reporter

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K. Tsianina Lomawaima, a professor of justice and social inquiry at the University of Arizona, discussed at a talk Thursday how Native Americans and indigenous people have been denied civil rights and citizenship throughout U.S. history.

Lomawaima spoke to an audience of about 30 people in Annenberg Hall about the hardships Native Americans and indigenous people have faced in the past and still face today. She covered topics including the taking of Native Americans’ land and their struggle for citizenship. The event was hosted by One Book One Northwestern and the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research.

She explained different laws and Supreme Court cases that have outlined Native American rights, including the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. But even after governmental action, Lomawaima said Native Americans still lack many rights.

Land is vital to the history of Native Americans and indigenous people in the U.S., Lomawaima said. She added that the taking of Native American land by the U.S. government has fueled stereotypes of Native Americans as nomads.

“The U.S. was built on Indian land, and the ways the U.S. acquired land carry a particular odor about them,” she said. “Even the cleanest transactions happened in a context of violence, epidemic diseases and environmental transformations.”

Lomawaima also said the difficulty for Native Americans to get citizenship was part of a broader issue on “delineating rights and responsibilities of the unmarked normal full citizen: the white property male.”

Jennifer Michals, program assistant at CNAIR, told The Daily she enjoyed learning more about what Native Americans thought about U.S. citizenship.

“Often the indigenous perspective is left out, so it’s nice to have that perspective told,” Michals said.

Frances Hartnett, a SESP sophomore, told The Daily she attended the talk for one of her classes and greatly enjoyed listening to Lomawaima speak.

Hartnett said she liked Lomawaima’s discussion about optimism and how many Native Americans have stayed positive as they spoke out against the U.S. government.

“It related a lot to what we’re talking about in class with power and privilege,” Hartnett said.

Native Americans never willingly gave up their land, and still view it as their own property, Lomawaima said. She added that in the 20th century, Native Americans stood up more often for their rights and for their land.

Lomawaima said Native Americans today have a “historical consciousness” that allows them to speak up and fight back against their oppressors.

“Speaking out to power and privilege can be dangerous and scary,” Lomawaima said. “It requires tremendous optimism because power and privilege often win. This historical consciousness reminds us that change can happen. It may take decades or generations, but it can happen.”

Twitter: @emilychaiet