Furthering the dialogue that began on first Monday with his presentation “Indigenous Identity and Existence: Fighting Erasure and Racism,” Gregg Deal screened his short film “The Last American Indian on Earth.” The film acted in conjunction with his speech, presenting yet another way Deal utilizes street art to address racial topics—specifically to reconcile and bring the racial injustices that Indigenous peoples face in the United States to the forefront and work towards reconciliation.
The film revolved around a piece of street performance art that Deal created, in which he dressed as an American stereotyped Indigenous person and took to malls, parks, streets, and monuments to record the reaction of the general American population. It was disturbing to watch the ignorant and insensitive comments Deal received from strangers; the provocative nature was extenuated when a twist was introduced near the end.
The white thesis student recording Deal’s project appropriated the material to make a film representing Deal’s project as a narrative of self-discovery. As Deal explains in his film, this performance art captures the way a public population interacts with an Indigenous person, by repurposing the stereotypes the population has of his attire.
“In the case of [‘The Last American Indian on Earth’], it’s a racial concept,” Deal said, reflecting on the role of his street art and the way it interacts with the audience. “This racial image, this indigenous-looking image, plays a role in facilitating a very real reaction from Americans all over the country, from humans all over the world, and what they really think and how they really feel about native people.”
“When you do something in a controlled environment, you get reactions that are acceptable, that are predicable,” Deal continued. “When you’re in spaces with people who might not go to a gallery to see you doing this type of work, their reaction is going to be so authentic.” This project was about using the authenticity of reactions to his performance, amd demanding honesty from its audience, even when it comes in ugly forms.
The honesty of the film did not end when the credits rolled. After a short question and answer segment, Deal invited several students who identify with different Indigenous tribes around the United States to speak. The students were given the stage to reflect on the topic of identity. Students shared what nations and ethnicities they identify with, their native languages, stories of home, stories of racist interactions, as well as how they feel on Colorado College’s campus.
One student who shared was junior Cristina Garcia, a former co-chair of SOMOS. “I’ve never seen that many students actually come to an event… For me, it was great to have the space,” Garcia said. “I love Gregg for providing that; I always will. But I think it’s something that me, Mateo [Parsons], and Zunneh-bah [Martin], have been actively trying to create for the past three years that I’ve been here … it’s almost upsetting that the general population has to have a name or a figure to attach to … It says a lot about our campus.” This screening, as many people have mentioned, had a very large audience, which isn’t the norm.
The support shown by the jam-packed screening room should not be a singular event, but continued. Deal’s presentation and film inspires work towards reconciling injustices through becoming educated in ways such as facilitating discussions about identity, and that cannot happen in an empty space. Talking with Garcia, junior Zunneh-bah Martin, and hearing the students who spoke at the event, it is clear a community of discussion is what they have been working towards. Deal recognized that with “the letter, first Monday, and then that showing … that was a prime opportunity to put students at the forefront so that they can be heard, so that conversation can happen,” and the next step is to continue these conversations and commit to involvement and listening.
For those who chose not, or were unable to, attend the screening and hear from the students that spoke, Martin asserts, “Whether you’re native or not, or if you’re unsure, if you’re a person of color or not, no matter how you identify with your ethnicity and gender, everyone is always welcome to NASU. Come to our meeting, our events; we’re all inclusive, all welcoming … Reach out. Don’t be scared of us. Most of us won’t get upset if you say the wrong thing. We’ll be understanding.” She also reflected on the Indigenous community in the greater Colorado Springs area and continued to spread awareness that there are resources to learn about the issues they want to discuss.
Garcia expressed similar inclusive philosophies to Martin; “I hope that people feel comfortable approaching all of us after,” she said. “If anything, I hope that this was the beginning of a community connection … When you see events going on, don’t be afraid to go and ask what’s going on, or ask if people need help or support … It’s never too late to start being an activist or a part of the community. If you mean what you say, then show up. It’s that simple. Make your actions and your words line up.”
This is not the place to share the stories shared at the event, but I encourage anyone who reads this to make an effort and listen to these students; go to events, meetings, and anything you are able to in order to continue the dialogue and meet people working to create inclusive spaces. NASU meets on Thursdays after class in the Southwest Studies House and the 2018 CC NASU Powwow will be held Saturday, March 31 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Reid Arena and Main Gym.
The events this week, other upcoming events, and the crescendo of voices ending the screening continue an important dialogue. There is honesty in these discussions that demands respect and honesty in return. Near the end of my conversation with Deal, he said, “You can’t reconcile if you’re not honest. You can’t change things if you can’t be honest. That honesty is such a key element. We’re in a strange place in our country where honesty is being skewed and languages are changing.” Through these dialogues and searching for the truth, we can recognize oppressive origins in words and work to change language for the better.