- By Darren Thompson
On Sunday, November 7, a large rock-- a known place on Northwestern University’s student campus--was defaced with anti-Indigenous messaging, just days after it was painted by Northwestern’s Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA).
It was the first time NAISA organized to paint the unofficial rock—dubbed The Rock—at Northwestern.
“When we initially heard about the vandalism to The Rock, our hearts all dropped,” said Isabel St. Arnold, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe, who’s from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Native News Online. “I wasn’t shocked, but I was very upset and I felt defeated that our message wasn’t accepted by our community.”
“As we wrapped up the first week of Native American Heritage Month, we were disheartened to discover that the Rock tribute designed in celebration by Northwestern’s Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance was painted over during the weekend with hateful and anti-Indigenous speech,” said Northwestern University’s Administration in an email to it students, staff and faculty. “The University is unequivocal in support of its Indigenous community and condemns the messages painted over the tribute.”
In contrast, the university recently responded harshly to Black Lives Matter protesters, promising to hold the protesters accountable and stating that ramifications for their actions could include "suspension, expulsion or legal consequences as appropriate."
The Rock was originally a water fountain, but over the years it has been painted over so many times that it now looks like a boulder, and as it continues to be painted, it grows in size and visibility. It’s generally used to communicate positive messages of what’s happening on campus, but rarely is hate speech seen.
NAISA painted The Rock on Thursday, November 4, and featured several messages in its design, including red handprints representing missing and murdered Indigenous women in North America, a land acknowledgement for Anishinaabe tribes—Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi tribes—and an image of a jingle dress dancer to signify healing.
“These truths were silenced with layers of white paint,” said NAISA in a statement to Northwestern University’s Administration.
Vandals spray painted over the messages “Bring Our Children Home,” “Happy Native American Heritage Month,” and “It’s Native American Heritage Month and it’s time NU is accountable to its history,” with “Ojibwe? No Way!” and changed, “You are on Anishinaabe land,” to “You are on China’s land.”
The vandalism also comes less than two weeks after a celebration of Anishinaabe culture at Northwestern University. An authentic birch bark canoe was created by Wayne Valliere, a Lac Du Flambeau Ojibwe, and was launched in Lake Michigan for the first time in hundreds of years.
NAISA student leaders responded to the vandalism by applying pressure to the university’s administration, demanding an investigation. They also demand changes be made to make the university safe and more inclusive for Indigenous people.
“We have a community here, and I want Northwestern University to be a school where Native students know they’re welcome at,” said Isabella Twocrow, a Northwestern University undergraduate student who self-identifies as both Oglala Lakota and Ho-Chunk. “It’s a community we have been building and in my three years here, I’ve seen amazing progress.”
“We oppose the vandals’ actions and hope that whoever did this understands the effect this had on our community today and forever on,” said NAISA in a statement to Northwestern University’s administration.
Northwestern University sent the below email to students following the incident:
Dear members of the Northwestern community,
On Monday, Nov. 8, I and other senior leaders posted on the Leadership Notes page of our website a message condemning the racist, hateful graffiti that was painted on the Rock last weekend. In the days since, the University has painted over the hate speech.
I also have heard from students, faculty and staff who I respect and care about, who told me they were hurt and angered that the message we posted to Leadership Notes was not sent to the entire Northwestern community. As we stated in Monday’s message and reiterate today, the University is unequivocal in support of its Indigenous community and condemns the messages painted over the tribute.
One of Northwestern’s central missions is for our community members to learn and grow, including me. I appreciate the feedback we received over the past several days. Below, you will find the full text of the message that was posted to Leadership Notes on Monday.
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Responding to Anti-Indigenous Speech at the Rock
November 8, 2021
As we wrapped up the first week of Native American Heritage Month, we were disheartened to discover that the Rock tribute designed in celebration by Northwestern’s Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA) was painted over during the weekend with hateful and anti-Indigenous speech. The University is unequivocal in support of its Indigenous community and condemns the messages painted over the tribute.
We are so proud of our students and their response to the hateful messages. Even in the midst of trauma, they came together to support and celebrate each other. Thank you to the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) for opening its space for students and community members to come together to process and be in community with each other following this discovery at the Rock.
This incident demonstrates there is still a wide need for robust education and understanding around Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples, their experiences, contributions, histories and issues in today’s society and beyond. We support NAISA’s decision to leave the Rock unchanged today with an additional banner as an opportunity for awareness and education. We recognize that there may be trauma in seeing the hateful messages but there is a need to be confronted by racism and bigotry. Leaving it is an important pedagogical moment.
We encourage the campus community to join in the opportunities that have been curated to celebrate Native American Heritage Month and will work toward widening opportunities for the campus community to engage and learn about, with and from Indigenous Peoples.
As we do in moments of distress, we remind members of the University community to reach out for help when it is needed.
As we move forward through Native American Heritage Month, please continue to take care of one another.
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