by Abaki Beck
This weekend, events are occurring throughout the United States honoring and reflecting on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and looking to the future to civil rights movements of today. Our Sunday Suggestions & Connections honors Martin Luther King, Jr. by focusing on contemporary racial injustices in the United States. We also provide links to a few of Dr. Kings speeches and writings, as well as a recent article comparing the Civil Rights Movement that he helped lead to the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement.
After President Obama addressed Congress this Tuesday on about the state of our nation, a different president gave the state of a different set of nations: Indian nations. Thursday this week, President Brian Cladoosby of the National Congress of American Indians gave the State of Indian Nations. This annual speech is an opportunity for the President of NCAI, which is the oldest, most representative tribal-membership organization in the country, to talk about the successes and struggles in Indian Country in the past year. President Cladoosby focused on four main topics: community safety and security; economic inequality; education, health, and wellness; and the impacts of climate change. In many measures of empowerment - freedom from violence, access to health care, educational attainment - Native Americans most often rank dead last. For each of these topics, he paired the often cripplingly painful realities with stories of success from tribes across the nation. What did each successful tribe have in common? Self-determination. He argued that we already know the solution to the struggles that Indian Country faces: let Indians address them, not the federal government. Paternalism has never and will never work to solve community problems. Especially considering many of these problems were caused (or exacerbated by) the federal government and federal policies to begin with. Because we live in a settler-colonial nation, and most people living here are settlers (or colonists), it is important to learn more about the oppressive system we benefit from and how we can combat it. Here are some suggested readings:
“Everything you wanted to know about Indians but were afraid to ask,” a filmed presentation by Anton Treuer at the Minnesota Historical Society
You can also locate an Idle No More group in your city and ask how you can get involved, donate to or volunteer for a Native American community organization, read Indian Country Today Media Network, a national source for news impacting Indian Country and Native Americans, support Native authors such as Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich, and more. Find more suggestions for general readings related to Indigenous America on our Communities and Identities Page. And don’t forget to read President Cladoosby’s full speech here.
Also this week, a young girl of color named Alexis Kyle faces a 30 day suspension to an alternative school for sharing her inhaler with a classmate. Indiyah Rush, a seventh grader, was having an asthma attack after gym class so Alexis offered Indiyah her inhaler. Alexis may now face punishment for violating her school's rules against sharing “controlled substances” - which includes prescribed medication such as inhalers. Alexis’ parents are obviously baffled, arguing that their daughter potentially saved her classmates life and is yet being harshly punished. Though this story is shocking, it is not unusual. Students of color, particularly black students, are much more likely to be punished for minimal offenses than white students. In fact, racial disparity is greater for girls than boys. Specifically, black girls are six times more likely than their white peers to be punished in school. This disparities result from a variety of intersecting issues: the criminalization of people (and thus youth) of color, histories of education as assimilation/violence for people of color, cultural disconnect in classrooms, lack of support services in schools for students of color, lower income students, and students with disabilities, among other reasons. Find out more about the school to prison pipeline with these readings:
Both of these stories highlight the massive work that still needs to be done for true racial justice. This work was by no means started by Martin Luther King, Jr, but he was certainly one of the actors that brought racial justice and civil disobedience to the national eye. To learn more about his work, we suggest you read straight from the source - here is a pdf of eleven of his speeches from 1957 to 1968, including speeches such as “I have a dream” and “I’ve been to a mountaintop” and his Letter from Birmingham jail. And, since it’s 2016 I highly recommend you read this piece called: “Don’t Criticize Black Lives Matter for provoking violence. The civil rights movement did too” about Martin Luther King, Jr., the myth of non-violence, and political rhetoric designed to keep us complacent and divide us.
Thank you for reading and staying engaged! Have a restful Sunday, an inspiring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and keep fighting the good fight!