Social justice and the values that naturally accompany it were rarely on my mind before I came to the Brandeis campus. I thought that being giving and kind in my own life was enough to help make this world a more just and peaceful place. However, Brandeis has removed the white privileged wool over my eyes and showed me the various ways I was complicit in the oppressive structures upon which my world rested. It was a difficult transition realizing that good intentions were not enough. Having to check myself for my unconscious biases and confront the guilt that came with the epiphany of my willing ignorance was overwhelming, but it also lit a flame under me. I was led to advocacy, activism, and for the first time I felt that I could actually be a part of a lasting solution.
Working at the North American Indian Center of Boston this summer forced me through another reexamination of my privilege in terms of becoming an ally. My desire to become a part of the solution and to right the wrongs of my ancestors was met with a wall formed by generations of built up distrust. Humbling as it was, this experienced awakened me to the unforgiving opposition this organization and the whole of Indian Country faced. After colonial wars, slavery, assimilation camps, broken treaties, and marches to ever-shrinking reservations, over five hundred Native American tribes have still survived but at a heavy cost.
The result of our colonialist history has led the Native American community into another losing battle against a government and people who think very little of the struggle they face. After over hundreds of years of resources, land, and cultural identity being ripped away from the tribes, they have been forcibly reliant on government assistance. In the new administration, for example, NAICOB has to fight against other Native American tribes and non-profit organizations for the same money to provide support for their communities. Under this new structure, tribes can no longer sustain themselves in the manner they had before the colonization of the Americas by European settlers. The sovereignty of which Native American communities have full claim is hollow to the government that implicitly controls them.
It was difficult to observe the heartbreaking history and current struggles my coworkers at NAICOB and their communities had to live with. At times I wondered if my existence working with them was an extension of the colonial perpetrators, infiltrating my way into the Native American community as some sort of white savior. However, I recognized there was a balance. I could be a part of the solution, not by preaching, but by listening, absorbing the stories, and setting fire to the neutral ignorance in my community. I can bring back all of my experiences to Brandeis and share with my fellow students so as we move forward with social justice we can be more aware of our place and our role in creating a better future for us all.