Heather Bruegl, a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, spoke about the history of Native American activism and policy at an event Sunday evening. The event was held by  the Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and Native American Student Association in anticipation of Native American Heritage Month in November.

“The underlying goal of every policy was assimilation and a Euro-centric lifestyle,” Bruegl said.

The U.S. government has continuously taken advantage of Native American tribes, using treaties to remove them from their land. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 was one of many pieces of legislation that allowed the government to claim native land. Under this act, President Andrew Jackson and his armed forces pushed more than 50,000 Native Americans off of their land on the Trail of Tears. Bruegl said this removal opened 25 million acres of land for white people to settle on, contributing to the spread of slavery.

Bruegl commented on Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, a court case regarding the misuse of the Dawes Act of 1887. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could dispose of reservation land without gaining consent as required by the treaty. 

In 1928, 25 years after the Supreme Court decision, the Coolidge administration found that the Dawes Act had been used illegally to take land from Native Americans.

LSA senior Summer Edwards said she appreciated the event because she was not exposed to these historical points as a non-Native woman. 

“I am disappointed in the lack of education I have received about Native American history and culture over the years and I think we all need to take a more active role in uncovering the ugly sides of American history that have silenced and suffocated Indigenous peoples and their land,” Edwards said.

Several policies, including the Citizenship Act of 1924, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, the Termination Policy of 1953, the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 and the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, were enforced in the following decades. These policies continued to force assimilation to American culture.

In response to the various discriminatory policies against Native Americans, a wave of activism arose in the 1960s.

In 1968, the American Indian Movement was founded with the intention of addressing urban American Indian issues through organized mass protests and the use of media to bring the issues into the mainstream.

AIM organized the occupation of Alcatraz Island in 1969, which raised awareness of what was happening in Native societies. During this demonstration, AIM leaders worked to show their power through reclaiming land.

“People saw what was happening,” Bruegl said.

Other significant protests include the Trail of Broken Treaties in 1972, a cross-country protest starting on the West Coast and extending across the country to Washington, D.C., and the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973, which took place on the Pine Ridge Reservation where the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre took place. Both of these protests made national news and provided a platform for American Indian rights, Bruegl said.

Bruegl said educational activism arose following the activist movements. Policies like the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, and the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which was renewed in 2013, also came about during this time. There was also the establishment of tribal colleges, which focused on educating Native Americans and other groups.

Recent legislation involving Native American rights includes the Protection of National Monuments and the Land Back Movement, which comes as people protested during a rally President Donald Trump held at Mt. Rushmore in July 2020.

Art & Design sophomore Zoi Crampton, a co-organizer of this event, said it is important to discuss how the policies of the United States government have — and still continue to — hurt Native Americans.

“I think it is an important lens to talk about, acknowledge and continue to research especially in context with decolonization, white supremacy and calling for an end to institutions and policies that uphold oppression,” Crampton said.

Daily News Contributor Kate Weiland can be reached at kmwblue@umich.edu.

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