Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian offers a penetrating, provocative look at the history of North American Indian-white relations in North America. It focuses on government efforts to remove and relocate Native peoples and white efforts to exterminate and assimilate them. It contrasts popular perceptions of what King calls “Dead Indians,” the romantic reminders of a largely fictional past (“dignified, noble, silent, suitably garbed”), and “Live Indians,” contemporary and contemptible (“invisible, unruly, disappointing”). And, to explain the complexities of Native resistance and reinvention, it offers a concluding chapter titled “What Indians Want.”
Read. Reflect. Engage.
A Note from Loren Ghiglione, One Book One Northwestern Faculty Chair
The most moving event of Native American Heritage Month at Northwestern, the honoring of Sand Creek Massacre victims, began Saturday, fittingly, at the John Evans Alumni Center.
I say fittingly, because Evans, a founder of Northwestern who chaired its board of trustees for 40 years, served as the Colorado Territory’s governor and ex officio head of Indian affairs from 1862 to 1865 and bore a major responsibility for the massacre.
On November 29, 1864, more than 700 U.S. Cavalry conducted a surprise attack on an encampment of Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek. Thinking that the attacking soldiers might not know the camp was friendly, Cheyenne chief Black Kettle, a peace advocate, raised the U.S. flag and a white banner to the top of his tipi.
But, according to a report of Northwestern University’s 2014 John Evans Study Committee, “The soldiers became a savage, undisciplined, and murderous mob.” They scalped and mutilated about 150 men, women and children. A soldier recalled, “One woman was cut open, and a child taken out of her, and scalped.” After the massacre, Evans defended and rationalized it. The Study Committee cited Evans’s “deep moral failure” and called his response to the massacre “reprehensibly obtuse and self-interested.”
So on Saturday members of Northwestern’s Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance (NAISA) drew attention to Evans’s moral failure and Black Kettle’s attempt to prevent bloodshed by raising a U.S. flag and white banner and attaching them to the sign for the John Evans Alumni Center.
Northwestern continues to honor Evans’s name not only on its alumni center, but on a room in its student center, a locker room, fellowships and professorships. The Study Committee noted: “In recent years, Northwestern has supplemented the two (now four) chairs that Evans endowed in his lifetime with ten additional ‘honorary’ John Evans Professorships that have no connection to his donations.”
At its Norris Center ceremony Saturday to remember the victims of the Sand Creek Massacre, NAISA focused on the continuing presence of Evans’s name on the alumni center. Northwestern alumnus Mark Cleveland ’87 (Cherokee) applauded the respectful way NAISA was seeking to start a discussion on renaming the alumni center. At event’s end, NAISA invited the 70 people in attendance to sign a petition calling for the removal of Evans’s name from all Northwestern buildings and professorships. Members of the Northwestern community may sign the petition at https://docs.google.com/a/u.northwestern.edu/forms/d/1NqXr7iDY1i9--oHOZiep8W-Zhxf6afQ_JhrdkPTlapI/viewform.
To its credit, Northwestern, on September 1, removed Evans’s name from its $5,000-$9,999 “leadership circle” of alumni giving. In addition, the university chose Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America as its 2015-16 One Book One Northwestern selection, knowing that its One Book programming would encourage discussions of how Evans should be treated on campus today.
In addition, the university has begun hiring faculty and staff to better address the issues and interests of Native Americans on campus. At the Saturday ceremony, Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson, executive director of Campus Inclusion and Community, announced the hiring of Jasmine Gurneau, (Oneida/Menominee) coordinator of the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative and a Northwestern graduate, as an assistant director, a joint appointment with Multicultural Affairs and Undergraduate Admissions.
Still, as NAISA reminded us Saturday, Northwestern can do more. Symbols matter. As one drives north from Chicago along Sheridan Road, the first evidence of Northwestern is a sign for the John Evans Alumni Center. In the Center’s living room stands a white stone bust of Evans, who called Native Americans soulless savages. So NAISA’s message to Northwestern—a university that espouses inclusion and education of all people, including Native Americans—resonates. Today is long past the time for Northwestern to remove the name of John Evans from its alumni center.
Since no One Book One Northwestern events are scheduled for December, this will be my last weekly update on One Book events until January, when One Book programming resumes.
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Medill Professor of Journalism, 2015-16 One Book One Northwestern Faculty Chair
Senior Program Coordinator One Book, One Northwestern