First Nations Club Started at Paul Smith’s College

By Ariah Mitchell, Casella Climate Resilience Fellow, PSC Center for Sustainability

You may have seen them tabling for Orange Shirt Day, but how much do you know about our First Nations Club on campus? To help spread awareness for this important group, I met with them to discuss their goals as a club and the subjects the members were most passionate about. Current focuses are raising awareness about the horrors of residential schools, as well as visibility and safe spaces for Haudenosaunee and other indigenous culture on campus. I spoke with Tahentahawi Chubb, Keeley Jock, Nolie Thompson, and Danielle “Dee” Knight about these critical topics.

Residential schools are not old history; the last one closed in 1996. Tahentahawi notes that she was five years old at that time. Not only were indigenous children forcibly assimilated into a culture that was not their own, but they were murdered in vast numbers throughout the U.S. and Canada in these schools. Canadian soldiers serving in WWII had a 1 in 26 chance of dying in combat. Keeley Jock points out that, for indigenous children in residential schools, the chance of being killed was 1 in 25. Residential schools would, for greater payment, accept more children than they had room for. Then, they would shoot the excess children into mass graves. There was never any closure for their parents. Keeley also notes that, while the Constitution has been ratified 86 times, “merciless Indian savages” has never been removed. I asked the group what they hope students will take away from their tabling initiative, and Chubb replied, “That every child matters. We have a lot of work left to do, but our goal is to see students on campus wanting to know about this.”

Map of residential schools in the U.S.:

On a more hopeful note, the First Nations Club had a great success Monday with the raising of the Haudenosaunee flag at the Admin building. “Putting up the flag is a small step, but an important one,” says Tahentahawi. She describes this victory as “a dream coming to life,” and “efforts since 2017 coming to fruition.” The Haudenosaunee flag was raised for the first time on campus when Tahentahawi graduated, but she mentions that as a student, she wished it had been up on campus indefinitely for more representation, inclusivity, and cultural awareness. “I want indigenous students to feel heard,” she states.

As for what goes on in the meetings: “We complain and we swear and we get things done,” says club member Dee Knight. Currently, the group is pushing for a class with a curriculum surrounding indigenous knowledge, titled Biocultural Restoration or Environmental Anthropology. The club will meet on October 11th and 25th, November 8th, and December 6th.

Check out these resources below to find out more about the push against native erasure: