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MSU gets an eviction notice: NAISO marches on Indigenous People's Day for institutional awareness

October 11, 2022
<p>NAISO and ILSO lead an Indigenous Peoples Day march to the Hannah Administration Building on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. </p>

NAISO and ILSO lead an Indigenous Peoples Day march to the Hannah Administration Building on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

"MSU, rent is due."

These were the words shouted by members of the North American Indigenous Students Organization, or NAISO, outside of the Hannah Administration Building on Monday, Oct. 10, Indigenous People's Day.

NAISO and other indigenous students and faculty marched to celebrate their resilience against all odds, including their university being founded on what they call a "land grab."

On the 25th anniversary of NAISO's sit-in at the university president's office, the group yet again rallied their supporters. They sported signs that spelled out their passion with phrases like "Columbus, your visa expired," "you're on stolen land" and "colonial hands off Indigenous lands."

The Indigenous students not only wanted to emphasize their anger, but their strength in numbers on a campus that holds so little of their community.

“We're celebrating our resilience, our strength as Indigenous people, and the fact that we're still here today, and that we're at this university too because universities historically have been oppressive towards Native people," co-chair of NAISO and social work senior Roxy Sprowl said.

While Sprowl is grateful to have found NAISO and other Indigenous students, she does not feel broadly represented. She is part of the smallest racial group on campus, with enrollment rates of Indigenous students still dropping.

Sprowl has a list of strategic advocacy plans to make her community heard. She wants to start with the holiday being recognized by the university as a day off, so her community can celebrate with family and other Indigenous people.

This would allow her community to be able to participate in more marches like Monday's, with students showing up in larger numbers.

“I think turnout would be very important for the cause," NAISO treasurer and arts and humanities junior Jo Troxell said. "We need more people to support our Indigenous students. We are a small community on campus … I know a lot of people have been told in their classes … that they didn't even know that Native peoples still existed.”

This idea of being unseen in the MSU community was a recurring theme at the march, with participants wanting to be heard.

The acknowledgement they seek comes with a widespread remembrance of the historical trauma Native people have gone through. Because of this, the next step for Sprowl and others in NAISO is to get the name of the Morrill Hall of Agriculture changed.

“The Morrill Act was the act that allowed universities to become land grant universities, which basically removed and dislocated Native people from their traditional homelands in order to benefit agricultural colleges," Sprowl said.

NAISO member and social relations and policy senior Stevie Quijas is working on this effort. He recently had a meeting with President Stanley about the subject.

“The administration is hesitant to support us in those efforts, but those efforts have been going on for years, and we've been trying to get that change," Quijas said.

As he builds connections, Quijas has met other indigenous students having similar problems with lack of institutional support. One of the issues presented at the march concerned the number of Indigenous students that need financial aid to pay for college, and are not seen as a priority to the administration.

“Freshman year in the financial aid department, I told them that I was having some financial difficulties, and their recommendation was that I couldn't afford to be here," NAISO cultural programmer and historian and arts and humanities junior Andrew Bracken said.

Bracken was forced to move off campus to get financial credit through COVID-19, even when he did not have a permanent home in East Lansing. Co-chair of NAISO and social relations and policy junior Neely Bardwell said she was told the same thing. Through this, they find a pattern in treatment of Indigenous students on campus.

Instances like these have led Sprowl to believe that an increase in DEI training for faculty towards Native and Indigenous students is necessary, as well as a heavier focus on the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program.

Sprowl hopes that more can be done than reading the land acknowledgement – a statement MSU regularly shares. It's important to read, Sprowl said, but MSU can do more.

“It's also important to acknowledge that if you're not going to be supporting Native students or Native people in the campus community, why are you saying that acknowledgement?” Sprowl said.

Bracken explained that the land acknowledgement essentially does nothing for Native people. They already know whose land they are on, he said. It's their ancestors.

Shay Sandoval-Flores, who was president of NAISO 25 years ago, was present at the march. She is now an academic advisor for the school and a designated Auntie – a cultural community leader whose role is to teach young people about their culture. However, she said she feels the need to teach her other faculty that everyone needs to be all hands-on-deck for change.

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“There are certain things that are just going to always have trauma and effects from it," Sandoval-Flores said. "It's like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, you’re not going to get much from it."

Sandoval-Flores sees the march as a domino effect, causing people to go out and help others, imploring students in the BIPOC community to join.

“This institution is on Native land," Sandoval-Flores said in her speech. "All your ancestors were here before and we're not just talking about Indigenous Native. (This is about) our BIPOC people, your ancestors as far as Asian as far as African American and as far as African."

Sandoval-Flores said that in her duty as Auntie, no one was going to mess with anyone's expression of their heritage.

“I’m gonna always be out here until the Creator calls me home, as I call it, or going on to the spirit world," Sandoval-Flores said.

In Bardwell and Sprowl's speeches, they read comments from a past celebratory MSU Instagram post. These included hateful remarks, like "get over it, cultures conquer other cultures. If they hadn't, your kids might still be wearing moccasins."

This was met by screams from the crowd, yelling that they will always wear their moccasins.

Bardwell said that while these comments are still on social media, it proves to them that institutional support does not favor them.

“What happened to hate has no home here?" Bardwell said. "President Stanley himself has said we must build a climate in which all members of our campus feel emotionally and physically safe and respected. How can we feel safe and respected when MSU is allowing hate to be blatantly displayed on the Rock, in common sections, posters and pamphlets and various other places on campus? These displays go unpunished and hate and discrimination is reinforced.”

Rallying their supporters from Beaumont Tower to the Hannah Administration Building, the group of marchers left their poster that said "eviction notice" on the steps and doors of the building. They hoped to give the administration their message of discontent for all the times they had felt ignored.

“It's very empowering, and it's very great to voice our own perspective rather than have it towed for us," Quijas said.

Indigenous students spent their day demanding the attention their ancestors did not receive, and protesting the type of treatment that they do receive.

“In essence, we just need more support," Sprowl said. "We need people to actually listen to our voices and value our voices."


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