Powerlands comes to UMass

Ivey Camille sparks inspiration at the discussion

Kayla+Wong%2F+Daily+Collegian+%282022%29

Kayla Wong/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Alexandra Hill, Collegian Correspondent

National Native American Heritage month concluded at the University of Massachusetts with the Powerlands Extravaganza on Thursday night. The event included a discussion with the director of the film “Powerlands,”  a panel discussing the impacts of sustainable energy on Native lands and a showing of “Powerlands” after a dinner featuring Native American Cuisine.

Powerlands,” released in 2022, has already received recognition in 24 film festivals for its emotional and intense message.

“My camera becomes my eyeballs; what I’m seeing, you’re seeing. You get to see how I see the world for a second,” Director Ivey Camilie Manybeads Tso said. She is a young Navajo filmmaker who draws her inspiration from her deep Indigenous heritage.

“I was six months old at my first protest; I’ve been in this world my entire life. So for me, it’s not actively trying to be an activist…this is just who I am and how I was raised and how I was taught,” Tso said. Tso also discussed the harm done to Native American communities by energy companies. “On our nation, a lot of people are hesitant towards any type of energy movement, even if it’s green and right now a lot of our green energy is not actually green. But there is a lot of hesitation on the [reservation] to have any energy at all,” she said.

Tso grew up with little energy in her community. She said that most on the reservation were able to survive a month with only $500 and if they ever needed anything they didn’t have on the reservation they could get in town.

“Coal companies, uranium mining, oil, even wind farms now are coming in and all they do is take and pollute and then leave, and they leave all their trash behind because energy companies are not required to take their trash away,” Tso said.

“We still have a chance to fix things and to make this place better,” Tso said at the end of her discussion. She reminded the audience that they can help and they have the ability to make a difference.

Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion Erika Dawson introduced Dr. Erin Baker, a professor of industrial engineering and operation research and Nathaniel Whitaker, the interim dean at the College of Natural Sciences to discuss UMass’ relationship with local nations.

The Pocumtuc and Norrwottuck Nations once inhabited the land that the UMass campus is now built on. The University was funded from the sale of Indigenous land in the Morrill Act of 1862, dislocating 82 tribes.

The UMass Land Acknowledgement recognizes the connection the University has to the land it was built on and its responsibility to the Nations that initially inhabited the area.

“We begin with gratitude for nearby waters and lands, including the Kwinitekw — the southern portion of what’s now called the Connecticut River. We recognize these lands and waters as important relations with which we are all interconnected and depend on to sustain life and wellbeing,” as stated in the University’s Land Acknowledgement.

The panel discussed what UMass could do to support the Indigenous community beyond their acknowledgment.

“I’d love to make sure we hire Indigenous faculty, increase the percentage of our students, connect to those communities and things like that,” Whitaker said.

“Imagine if all those 82 tribes were allowed to come here for free. The model is already out there. You, as students, can raise up and ask for this to happen,” Tso added, getting a round of applause from the audience.

In addition, in Sept. 2022, UMass introduced a new smudging policy, which allows students to burn cultural materials on campus.

Smudging is a ceremony that uses smoke from burning herbs to make a space pure. Before the new policy, it was banned on campus for safety reasons, but now any student or instructor can engage in smudging with proper clearance from Environmental Health & Safety.

Native students on campus also have access to events run by Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success.

“Dedicating time on the calendar annually provides a platform to center historical and contemporary contributions by Native peoples, celebrate Native cultures and educate on issues that matter most to Native peoples, Director of CMASS Wilma Crespo said.

In a statement by both Crespo and Michelle Youngblood, the Assistant Director of CMASS, they said, “Native Heritage Month is an invitation to engage more intimately with the richness and complexities of Native heritage and examine our own relationships with Native peoples, their history and culture.”

Crespo and Youngblood also pointed out the continuous resources provided on campus for students. The Josephine White Eagle Cultural Center provides more activities throughout the year. The Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies offer courses across the Five College to explore Native American and Indigenous culture more thoroughly.

Another resource is the Native Advisory Council. They regularly meet to ensure that Native American Students at UMass are treated with respect, encouraging inclusion, providing counseling and much more to ensure Native students at UMass feel safe while also getting a good education.

Kay Mattena is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology at UMass, with a focus on Indigenous archaeology.She also is enrolled with the Citizen Band Potawatomi and has matriarchal ancestors who are Odawa and Ojibwe.

“I think [the heritage months] are great and beneficial and that it brings awareness to people who are not from those communities,” said Mattena.

Mattena said the “events that the cultural centers put out are great,” referencing the beading circle and their collaborative work to recognize tribes.

However, some Indigenous students feel as if local colleges can do more to support their students.

“UMass needs to center indigenous people more, especially because we are in Norrwutuck land… but the land that was used for this; the land grants that were put into this, there needs to be more done there.” Naomi Poot Ibarra, a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College, said. “Land back, that’s what true repairing of relations would be, land back.”

Steve Fernandez, a professor in the College of Engineering, was another member of the organizing committee that brought Powerlands to UMass.

“I bore witness firsthand to what was it was depicted in the film, where it is groups that were doing not fossil fuels, but in my case sustainable energy, people going about doing that work without engaging in indigenous communities and the work having negative impacts on them,” Fernandez said, who got his degree in sustainable energy.

It was important for Fernandez to make sure that the students and people going into these fields could learn from the communities affected.

“One person can have a massive impact,” Tso said. “A lot of people working together can have an even larger one.”

Alexandra hill can be reached at [email protected]