By TOSHA BAKER and BLAKE NOBLE
O’Donnell Hall was packed with an audience that listened intently to a Columbia University professor as she told her story Nov. 21. Behind her, a very straightforward and poignant message was displayed: “We won’t die.”
Audra Simpson is a Kahnawake Mohawk. She explained the meaning behind the title of her lecture Strategizing Indigenous Life against Settlement in the late 20th Century.
“Within this title is the purposeful effort to wed what I see as two crucial activities,” Simpson said. “One is a noun: life. This is a crucial activity. The other is a verb: strategy.”
Simpson said indigenous people are still very much alive and struggling for the sovereignty of their nations. They have not simply assimilated into American or Canadian publics and they are not deracinated, de-cultured or depoliticized.
“What I want people to take away from this lecture is how crucial knowledge is to strategizing and living a good life in the face of power,” Simpson said.
Simpson described the loss of lands and demographics as well as attempts upon the Mohawk’s culture, politics and souls. She referred to the unfair treatment of them at the U.S. and Canadian borders. She said Mohawks are treated like threats, especially when they cross the border; which is a treaty-based sovereign right.
Simpson urged the audience to “know knowledge;” to be alive to it and have a full grasp of what it is, how it operates and it’s effects, so that they could one day critique that knowledge and expose it for what it really is.
“Critique can be part of sovereignty as it is to stand in active relation towards knowledge,” Simpson said. “Because domination requires that you stand in very critical relation to the fact and you take a false fact, sit it in the corner and make it explain itself.”
During the Q&A Simpson commented on Native American Heritage Month. “Problematic specified moments should not need just a month, it should be all the time,” Simpson said. “Doing this isolates what should be an ongoing discussion, to simply just one time.”
Simpson received her Ph.D. from McGill University and has numerous awards and fellowships. She has written a book Mohawk Interruptus, about the push of the Mohawks to keep their sovereignty and survive, instead of fading into Canada or America.
“She’s a very informant, down to earth person and genuine person in addition to being a world class scholar,” said Erik Liddell, assistant professor of Humanities.
Simpson’s keynote address was not only the last Chautauqua Lecture of the semester; it was also the last for lecture coordinator Minh Nguyen.
“One of the greatest joys of serving in this capacity is the extraordinary amount of goodwill and support that I’ve received,” Nguyen said.