First Monday Speaker Gregg Deal: “The Hard Work Comes with the Commitment”

Block 7 began with First Mondays Event Series speaker Gregg Deal, a Native American painter, muralist, and performance artist whose work “squarely addresses racist language,” as Director of the Butler Center Paul Buckley stated it in his introductory remarks. Though Deal’s words would be important and enriching to students at any time of year, his message felt especially relevant in the wake of the anonymous email that was sent to members of the Colorado College community during Spring Break.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

The email, which was received by a seemingly random selection of students, faculty, and staff members, was sent by what Buckley described as “a normalized, disturbed person,” and manifested itself in “violence towards our community of learners and teachers.” In addition to the usual introduction that a first Monday speaker receives, Buckley took time to make remarks on the email and how the community wishes to proceed moving forward.

While Buckley’s speech received numerous standing ovations, the longest and most prominent one occurred when he directly addressed Deans Mike Edmonds and Rochelle Mason, the two CC employees who were personally named in the email. “We lift them up,” Buckley said. “We lift them up for their excellence, their steadfastness, and most of all, their humanity.”

Though Deal initially stated that he didn’t know how to follow a speech as powerful as the one Buckley gave, his presentation, titled “Indigenous Identity & Existence: Fighting Erasure and Racism,” fell nothing short of potent and moving. Deal began by introducing the audience to his wife and five children, emphasizing their importance to him and starting with a lighter tone before shifting to weightier subject matter. “They humanize me,” he said. “There’s a very specific way that my family interacts with one another. It’s about reconciliation.”

When Deal did delve into the darker topics, the audience was immediately able to recognize both the genuine nature of his words and their relevance to Buckley’s. Deal went methodically through various projects of his, beginning with a mural of two young boys facing each other on the side of a building—one dressed in traditional Native American attire and the other in purely Western. The message—or the question, more specifically—that Deal was raising was “which is more Indian?” The answer was “both.”

His works of performance art, which he introduced later on, dealt with similar issues, ranging from Columbus Day to racist sports mascots, such as the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians. What Deal was able to do, however, was give the audience a colorful background behind those mascots, providing a detailed history to explain just how cruel and racist they really are while also emphasizing the “power of words.” “This is the history that our country is built upon: a history of supremacy,” said Deal.

Both Deal’s presentation and Buckley’s speech could not have been more suited for one another, even though Deal was chosen as a speaker before the email incident had even occurred. Buckley’s message to the perpetrator was unwavering: “If they are students, they will be expelled. If they are current employees, they will be terminated.” He even addressed the possible claim that sending such an email is within the rights of free speech, and shot down the theory immediately, stating that the “persistent questioning and distrust of minoritized persons … are not free speech issues.”

From these sentiments, to Deal’s emphasis on institutionalized racism, the blood quantum required for admittance to tribal roles, and the “forced assimilation” and “white education” thrust upon native children in boarding schools, the message of this powerful first Monday rung clear. Colorado College does not, and will not tolerate racism on any ground—and those who object to this policy are no longer welcome in our community.

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