Reflections on Carlisle Journeys 2018

James van Kuilenburg (Dickinson College, ’22) wrote this reflection on Carlisle Journey’s for his History 117 class with Dr. Lindsay Varner.

The Carlisle Journeys Conference, in many ways, was uniquely powerful and impactful. In one of the first panels of the day, “Recovering History”, I was fortunate enough to listen to the stories of three women with Indigenous heritage. I was struck by the similarities of the three stories, even while they were from different areas of the country. They all encountered lack of documentation of their families, a “conspiracy of silence” that prevented learning and celebration of heritage, and lack of autonomy. Even though they were sharing stories of ancestors from decades and even hundreds of years ago, they all did a magnificent job of tying it back to the present. Panelist Anna Elena Torres shared the particularly astonishing link between the National Archives and Records Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. NARA is the primary holder of Puerto Rican documents detailing young people taken from the island in the 19th and 20th century, as well as modern-day 21st century documents about Latinx separated families. Indigenous people stolen from their homes as well as immigrants torn from their families, hundreds of years apart, lead to the same government agency. Torres’s point, as well as other facts illustrated by the rest of the panel, effectively proved to the audience the link between colonialism and modern day state-sanctioned racism.

After the break for lunch, I attended the panel, “Intergenerational Impact”. It was an incredibly emotional, challenging finish to the day. Many panelists cried while recounting the stories of their own interactions with white supremacy, colonialism, and forced assimilation. The loss of culture, language, and love because of these institutions of oppression were still raw. A quote by Dr. Robin Minthorn shared during the presentation particularly struck me, “Recognizing the journey of our ancestors and honoring our ancestors’ plight is retelling their stories so we remember how we survived.” Her quote effectively completed the conference, reminding all attendees of why we attended in the first place. Groups of marginalized people depend on the strength of our predecessors to continue progress. In this case, Native and Indigenous resistance was highlighted. Personally, I was reminded of themes in colonialism in Africa. Enslaved people celebrated their ancestors in order to maintain hope for the future.

All in all, I have never been quite in a space like the Carlisle Journeys Conference. In my American education, Native peoples have never been more than a footnote. Even when they have been discussed, it was in the past tense, effectively erasing the oppression of Native people in the 20th and 21st century. The conference was in, every way, restorative. Panels, speakers, and resources all unapologetically retorted the false narratives offered by mainstream white culture. I learned more in a handful of hours about Native resistance, resilience, and future than I had in my entire K-12 experience. My own thoughts and beliefs were challenged about Native cultures, and I was left a more critical thinker on the subject. Not only am I happy I attended the conference, I’m looking forward to what more information I’ve been prompted to discover.

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