Mills: Racists have a home here

Kadin Mills, Columnist

Content warning: This story contains mentions of racist and homophobic slurs.

Aaniin, boozhoo gakina nindinawemaaginidog. Kadin indizhinikaaz zhaaganashimong.  Gaawiin ingikenimaasii nindoodem. Gichi-wiikwedong indoonjaba, jiigi-michigamme indaa.

I am a first descendent of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community living in what is known today as Michigan. I live near the shore in rural Buchanan, Mich. on land ceded to the United States in 1828. Here at Northwestern, I have been involved in the Native community, which is now a space I call home.

In the past I have written about how coming to NU transformed my own idea of my Indigenous identity, from finding community to learning more about who I am and how I got here. That means uncovering generational traumas and family histories I had never considered before. The Indigenous community here is a strong one, and I am proud to be a part of it. This past week however, the greater NU community has failed us.

Sunday was a hard day. For Indigenous people in North America, Native American Heritage Month is a time for communities to heal from generational trauma resulting from boarding schools, termination, removal, environmental injustice — the list goes on.

The Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance painted The Rock last Thursday night ahead of Family Weekend. In the spirit of healing, we painted an orange jingle dress dancer and an Anishinaabe medicine wheel, all with messaging that centered contemporary Native issues. We joked that it was only a matter of time before our messaging would be painted over. I thought about what racist slurs might cover our messages. I pictured myself walking to The Rock to see it covered in red paint.

When I woke up to a text from my Ojibwe relative on campus reading, “Are you okay?” I knew what had happened. We all did. I walked toward The Rock to assess the damage for myself. Two squad cars were parked there between University Hall and Harris Hall. I approached two University Police officers, who asked me what I found personally offensive about what was painted on The Rock. I asserted that, as an Ojibwe student, obviously I find “Ojibwe? No way!!” very offensive, not to mention the scribbles across “Bring our children home,” an homage to the thousands of children buried under a thin layer of dirt at the sites of residential “schools” across Turtle Island.  

Nonetheless, the cops asserted that what was painted was protected as free speech, and that “everyone has a right to paint The Rock.” They told me they did not find The Rock to be offensive … just ignorant. This came just days before the University sent an email condemning the demonstration at last Saturday’s football game. Yet, the University still has not emailed a response to the “free” hate speech at The Rock, and instead hid the strangely paternalistic response in Leadership Notes and allowed it to spread by word of mouth alone. 

The University, in the role of Big Brother, claims unequivocal support for Indigenous students and advocates for “robust education and understanding around Native Americans,” but little has been done to shift the burden of education off the shoulders of the Indigenous community. The message reads as a shallow praise for students handling hatred so well, which doesn’t sit right with me. 

To be frank, I don’t care who painted the attacks on The Rock. The issue at hand is the culture the University fosters. 

Racists have a home here. In 1996, students painted “Die Negroes” and “Die Fags” on The Rock. Twenty years later, students painted swastikas and slurs in the Alice Millar Chapel

Hate speech on campus is not new. Settler students might be surprised by the anti-Indigenous rhetoric, but we are not.

You are on Anishinaabe land. Learn to act like it.

These opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of all members of the Indigeneous community on campus and I do not share these on behalf of the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance.

Kadin Mills is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.