About 175 indigenous students gathered at Yale the past weekend for the annual Ivy Native Summit.
Hosted by the Ivy Native Council — an organization run by student representatives from all eight Ivy League schools — and the Association of Native Americans at Yale, the three-day event aims to bring students together from all eight campuses to discuss issues affecting the Native American community. Each year, the summit features a series of speaker events and discussions sessions on a specific topic. This year’s theme, “Indigenous Feminisms: Helping Each Other Grow,” focused on the role of Native American women and their relationship to the world around them. It also touched on topics such as the intersections of race, colonialism, identity and sexuality in society.
“The only thing we can count on in this world is change,” said Katsi Cook, a Mohawk midwife and indigenous woman’s health advocate. “Social transformation is the agenda we’re born into. Especially indigenous people.”
Cook started the keynote speeches by discussing the importance of creating positive social change, highlighting in particular the roles of indigenous women in that change.
She emphasized the importance of self-examination and a strong connection to the soul.
“Ask your spirit. What am I here for?” Cook said. “You’re not here for very long. You’re sent here for a mission.”
Other guest speakers included Lisa Kahaleole Hall ’86, a women’s and gender studies professor at Wells College and Cornell University, Amanda Blackhorse, a social worker and member of the Navajo Nation, and Dio Ganhdih, a Native American rapper and hip-hop producer.
Hall spoke of the continuing oppression and violence toward people, especially Native Americans, whose gender identities and cultures differ from the traditional patriarchal, Christian values that have remained since colonial times.
“Tradition does not support the violence toward others because of their gender identity,” Hall said. “Our cultures held and still hold values that need to be reclaimed for the future.”
Speakers and students interviewed connected their thoughts and ideas to current issues affecting the Native American community today, such as the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an underground oil line, near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation.
Hall likened the original struggle between colonists and Native Americans to the challenges currently facing protestors of the pipeline project.
“The pipeline has a possibility of contaminating the water for the Standing Rock Sioux,” Kushi said, comparing the situation to the contamination of the Saint Lawrence River beginning in the 1950s that affected the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, an area on the border of the United States and Canada.
In addition, Blackhorse discussed her activist work to eliminate the name of Washington, D.C.’s National Football League team, the Washington Redskins. The use of the word “redskins” has been viewed as offensive and disparaging by many Native Americans throughout the country.
University administrators, including Kelly Fayard, assistant dean of Yale College and director of the Native American Cultural Center, and University President Peter Salovey welcomed students to the summit, along with Lifetime Chief of Mohegan Nation Marilynn Malerba.
Students interviewed said one of the most rewarding parts of the summit was the opportunity to connect with Native Americans from other schools. Participants came from a variety of universities and colleges including all eight Ivy League schools, Bowdoin College, Duke University and New York University.
Fredrick Blaisdell, a senior at Cornell, said he enjoyed the opportunity to network with peers from other schools.
“Being an indigenous person at some of these prestigious institutions, you rarely get the chance to meet other native peoples because there’s so few of us,” Blaisdell said. “The Ivy Native Summit allows us to collaborate and to build our network of support.”
Sophie Brunt, a senior at Bowdoin, said she was particularly interested in Native Americans’ nontraditional methods of reproduction and methods of raising children, which Cook referenced in her talk.
Haylee Kushi ’18, who helped organize the event and designed the conference’s logo, praised the summit for its wide variety of speakers.
The Ivy Native Council was founded in the fall of 2004.