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'We are still here': MSU Rock's message remains the same between Indigenous and Palestinian student groups

October 11, 2023
The Rock after being painted by Students United for Palestinian Rights around midnight, on Oct. 10. Photo courtesy of NAISO.
The Rock after being painted by Students United for Palestinian Rights around midnight, on Oct. 10. Photo courtesy of NAISO. —

On Monday, members of the North American Indigenous Student Organization painted the Michigan State University Rock with the message, "WE ARE STILL HERE" for Indigenous Peoples' Day. 

At midnight on Tuesday, Students United for Palestinian Rights painted the Rock with the Palestinian flag. Later, the message, "Free Palestine" was painted on top.

Linguistics senior and Students United for Palestinian Rights President Samir Levitt said their group spoke to the North American Indigenous Student Organization about painting the Rock after Indigenous Peoples' Day, and the two organizations came to terms that Students United for Palestinian Rights could paint it.

Levitt said they kept the North American Indigenous Student Organization's original message because the struggles of Indigenous North Americans and Palestinians are "one and the same."

"Just like European colonizers have ethnically cleansed indigenous people here for hundreds of years, Israel has been doing the same thing to Palestinians," Levitt said. "'We are still here' reflects that Indigenous people the world over will not surrender to those who seek to exterminate them."

Although Students United for Palestinian Rights had been planning to paint the rock since August, Levitt said, the decision was spurred on by recent violence unfolding in the Gaza Strip.

On Oct. 7, the Hamas militant group attacked Israelis, killing over 900 people and taking 100 more hostage. Israel then declared war, killing at least 830 Palestinians by launching airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

Levitt said Students United for Palestinian Rights wanted to paint the rock to bring awareness to the situation. 

"We support the right of the Palestinian people to resist occupation and colonization," Levitt said. "(We) are 100% with the right for Palestinians to resist their oppressors, just as we are with the right of all oppressed people on earth to resist their oppressors, just as we are with (the North American Indigenous Student Organization) and Indigenous people to resist the oppression and colonization they have faced for the past few hundred years."

Levitt added that he did not realize the North American Indigenous Student Organization was also going to paint the Rock in October. He said it is "pretty common" for the Rock to have a "conflict" like this because there isn’t a signup sheet. 

"(The North American Indigenous Student Organization) has been one of our closest allies on campus," Levitt said. "So it wasn’t really surprising to me that they were aware of what we were doing, and it was a pretty overall normal exchange."

Social relations and policy senior and North American Indigenous Student Organization Co-Chair Neely Bardwell said in an email that she wished her organization's painting was on the rock for a "little bit longer," but understands the rock can be painted every night. 

"The students who painted the rock in support of Palestine have the North American Indigenous Student Organization's support," Bardwell said. "They even incorporated part of our original design in theirs. The violence that the State of Israel has been subjecting Palestine to closely resembles the historical violence and genocide that Native people experienced at the hands of the United States government." 

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The Rock after being painted on by the North American Indigenous Student Organization, or NAISO, on Oct. 9, Indigenous Peoples' Day. Photo courtesy of NAISO.

Social relations and policy senior and member of the North American Indigenous Student Organization Stevie Quijas said the the group paints the rock every year on Indigenous Peoples' Day. 

"We like to make people aware of our presence on campus," Quijas said. "Some tribes have recognition and rights we are able to defend ourselves and fight for these things better, but it’s still a journey to prove to people that we are here."

Last night, the Rock was painted with the message, "We won't be silenced. Go Green, Go White. Palestinians deserve rights. Go Peace."

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The Rock on Farm Lane read "Free Palestine" on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, two days after Israel declared war on Hamas.

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