November is Native American Heritage Month

Last week began the start of Native American Heritage Month and several fantastic kick-off events at CSU, including a powwow. This November is especially exciting as CSU is close to hiring its first assistant vice president for Indigenous and Native American Affairs.

As a non-native scholar who has integrated settler colonialism theory and other indigenous scholars’ work into my own, I’m continually reminded of the work that we who are not indigenous need to do to resist and dismantle settler colonialist ways of thinking. Legal scholar Natsu Taylor Saito has shown how white people’s ways of understanding land and property is influenced by our drive to take and own. Saito notes that within what is now the United States during the land grab, land could be owned by whomever lived on it…as long as they were white. Saito suggests that this history led to the conflation of whiteness, settler colonialism, and right to own. Given this context, I try to rethink what is owned, who it is owned by, and if it should be owned in that way. These are particularly relevant questions at CSU, which is a land grant institution, built on indigenous land.

Related to veterinary medicine, Gilbert John, Ph.D., assistant dean for research in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at CSU, and Kelsey Dayle John, Ph.D., assistant professor of American Indian studies and gender and women studies at the University of Arizona, presented at CSU’s Symposium for Inclusive Excellence a couple of weeks ago on indigenous perspectives in the animal sciences. Their talk elucidated the unique ways of knowing and relating to animals that many indigenous people share. Some thoughts they shared included that from their perspectives, animals and pets were family members. Kelsey noted that from an indigenous perspective there is not a hierarchy between humans and animals; one group is not more valuable than the other.

I found these concepts eye opening and for me it made a connection between indigenous perspectives of the human-animal bond and the understanding of property and ownership that I’d learned from Saito. It made me wonder how settler colonialist notions of property affect the way that non-indigenous people understand their “ownership” of an animal and their responsibility to and for that animal. These questions reveal all of the settler colonialist notions on which western approaches to animal science and veterinary medicine rely and are built. In so doing, we also see how much work we need to do in the field and at our college to dismantle settler colonialism.

We have an opportunity during Native American Heritage Month to recommit to and start doing this work. Here are some ways to get started:

We invite you to recommit to supporting and promoting our Native American and indigenous communities and partners this November and to prepare for work in the next year that must go beyond the land acknowledgement.