By Colton Maines
CSULB American Indian Studies blindfolded the Prospector Pete statue late last Wednesday to promote Genocide Awareness Week.
The university approved both the blindfold and the artwork to go along with the series of events in recognition of Native American Heritage Month according to American Indian Studies Program Director Craig Stone.
“It’s definitely not guerilla tactics,” said Ashley Glenesk, the vice president of the American Indian Student Council.
CSULB itself stands on the grounds of the indigenous Tongva nation and specifically the Puvunga burial site where many artifacts of the culture have been found, said James Manseau Sauceda, the director of Multicultural Affairs.
If little else, it was hoped it would provoke “a positive conversation,” Sauceda said. “It’s a history people literally walk over.”
Stone said that the blindfold covering Prospector Pete’s eyes acts as a metaphor to how many people will turn a blind eye to the brutal crimes done towards the indigenous people by the “Forty-Niners” during the Gold Rush.
This is especially evident with the plaque the AIS placed that says “Blind to History: 1846-1873” with the date being a direct reference to Brendan C. Lindsay’s Murder State: California’s Native American Genocide, 1846-1873, Stone said.
Over the course of the month there will be a variety of events and panels including the ‘When was the first time you heard about heard about the California Indian Genocide?’ panel Nov. 9 to discuss the feelings and the hardships Native Americans today face, the ‘Rock your Mocs’ where students are supposed to wear moccasins from Nov. 8-15 and finally a ‘Flash Mob Community Drum’ to explore the indigenous cultural music on Nov. 30.
Yasmin Cortez also contributed to this article.[/sidebar]
Thick clusters of golden flags flutter in the breeze, dug into grass adjacent to a blindfolded Prospector Pete. The plaque at the 49er mascot’s feet reads: “Blind to history 1846-1873.” The clusters of flags dwindle as the eye travels, until sparse yellow is drowning in a sea of green.
The flags are part of a demonstration assembled by the American Indian Student Council in honor of Native American Heritage Month.
November is Native American Heritage Month, which will be observed with four weeks of events hosted by the American Indian Student Council, American Indian Science and Engineering, and the American Indian Studies Program.
This week’s event, titled “Genocide Awareness Week,” aims to redefine how students and faculty at California State University, Long Beach, interpret the genocide of California’s indigenous peoples.
Student member of the American Indian Student Council Miztlayolxochitl Aguilera said that the display of varying flags represented the “three Californias”; an idea symbolizing three eras within California, defined by the acts of settlers and their impact on indigenous peoples. The first California represents the 150,000 indigenous peoples who lived in the state after the missions program, a fraction of the initial population of 300,000. The Gold Rush delineates the second California.
“The Gold Rush era, is a thing we [at CSULB] take so much pride in—‘I’m a prospector! I’m a 49er!’ type of thing. Half, if not more than half, of that 150,000 were massacred during the Gold Rush. They disappeared,” Aguilera said.
Aguilera is Tongva. She is a legacy within the American Indian Student Council. Aguilera was introduced to the CSULB campus at a young age, growing up on the same land that her people walked to from the San Gabriel Mission.
Despite growing up on the very same land her ancestors lived on, Aguilera has dealt with the erasure of her own culture on the CSULB campus and feels that events like these are vital to this campus.
“It’s difficult at times, especially when you have history professors and fellow peers dismissing you without even hearing your story—without them even trying to comprehend your family’s history, your people’s history,” Aguilera said.
American Indian Student Council President Adelita Arredondo said that “genocide awareness” week was inspired by an event that transpired at California State University, Sacramento in which a native student was kicked out of a class after arguing with her professor on whether or not the decimation of American Indians can be called a “genocide.”
Arredondo said that not much is typically done for Native American Heritage Month. However, the American Indian community at CSULB felt that it was important to bring awareness of the community and historical genocide to campus.
“Locally, people aren’t aware of what happened in California to the indigenous peoples—let alone the whole United States. We are still here, we’re still preserving our culture despite what we’ve faced,” Arredondo said.
Throughout this week, American Indian Student Council will continue to table for “Genocide Awareness Week” in an attempt to educate the campus community on not only the history of CSULB, but the history of California and the indigenous people who live here.