Native activism course

Madonna Thunder Hawk and Marcy Gilbert will speak at the first class in the library's free series titled "Indigenous Environmental Movements,” Wednesday from 6-7:30 p.m. To register, visit the library's website and navigate to the events page. (Photo courtesy of Warrior Women)

Four years ago, the world looked on as a handful of Native youth from the Standing Rock reservation and surrounding communities in North Dakota swelled into thousands of protesters, gathering to oppose the construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline. For a time, the protests garnered international media attention and even support from high-ranking politicians. Then time passed, and so did most of the world’s attention. 

Yet Native environmental activists stayed the course, despite the dimming of the media spotlight. Around the globe, Indigenous leaders and activists have continued the dedicated struggle for the recognition of sovereignty and the protection of Native lands. 

Sometimes, amid the cacophony of social media, the prattle of talking heads and the blaring of myriad news outlets, it’s challenging to orient oneself in a grounded understanding of complex issues. Now, thanks to a free series called “Indigenous Environmental Movements” offered through the Wilkinson Public Library, those who seek a better understanding of the role Indigenous groups and activists have played in modern environmental movements will have the opportunity to learn, hearing directly from several of those activists themselves.

Part of the series’ purpose, according to Dr. Christina Callicott, is to “foreground Indigenous voices as much as possible” throughout the series. Dr. Callicott, a professor of environmental studies and anthropology at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, will be presenting the five-part series via Zoom on Wednesdays from 6-7:30 p.m., with classes taking place every two weeks. The series will cover four modern Indigenous environmental movements, including a class covering the movement at Standing Rock.

Other movements covered include the American Indian Movement, Chevron versus Indigenous Ecuadorians, and the Papuan independence movement, along with themes of language and culture loss, self-determination and environmental restoration. Books and films will accompany the classes and are available to participants free through the library, though completing the suggested materials should not be viewed as a barrier to those interested in the series.

“Nobody is grading anybody,” said Laura Colbert, an adult programs specialist at the library. “You can just come to the classes  —the speakers are amazing.”

Likewise, she said, participants can come to one or two of the classes, without feeling the need to commit to all five.

On Wednesday, the first class will offer an introduction of the American Indian Movement, with guest speakers Madonna Thunder Hawk and Marcy Gilbert, two longtime Indian rights activists and Lakota and Dakota community organizers. The mother-daughter duo feature in the film “Warrior Women,” which will be made available for free to class participants for viewing prior to the event.

“The folks that are going to be joining these classes are people you would normally have to travel to a university to hear from or to a cool Mountainfilm-esque film festival,” said Colbert. “Hearing from them directly, and being able to ask questions, is going to be very special.”

The series is part of a range of events made possible by the Resilient Communities grant, which the Wilkinson Public Library received in October through the American Libraries Association as part of a pilot program to assist libraries in developing community-based responses to climate change. Including Indigenous voices in the resulting programming was a key focus for the library.

“As science continues to show the critical importance of Indigenous practices in the future of land use, we have an immediate opportunity to apply Native wisdom to conservation and management,” observed Joanna Spindler, a WPL adult programs specialist. “It's always thrilling when our corner of the world can tap into global science and research  —this series has the capacity to connect our community with an immense movement of Native leadership worldwide.”

The series, Dr. Callicott noted, will provide a learning opportunity that can lay the groundwork for meaningful engagement with ongoing social issues.

“Educating ourselves is the first step, and helps prepare us to take other actions in the future from a place of understanding,” she said. “I hope people come away with a greater understanding and awareness of Native American history, contemporary issues, and how those two are tied together.”