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Since childhood, Syracuse University alumnus Danielle Smith has been told stories about the Onondaga people in order to understand their history. A member of the Onondaga Nation, she has worked her entire life to continue these stories and bring justice to Indigenous people.
Smith received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work at SU and has spent time organizing and advocating for environmental and Indigenous rights.
“That’s the reason why I went into social work, I want to help raise the voices up — people who are marginalized and oppressed,” Smith said. “And obviously, I’m not just talking about just Indigenous people. I’m talking about all people of color.”
Smith is one of many Indigenous activists in the central New York area who are working toward equality for Indigenous people. Smith said she personally brings awareness to issues surrounding Indigenous people such as voting. Native Americans have the lowest voter turnout and one in three eligible voters are not registered to vote, according to the National Congress of American Indians.
Smith finds the marginalization of Indigenous people, especially of women and girls, difficult to comprehend. There were 5,712 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women reported in 2016, but only 116 were logged on the Department of Justice federal missing persons database, based on the research of the Urban Indian Health Institute.
“It is a pandemic that’s happening where women, girls and Two Spirit people are going missing, or they’re murdered, and there’s very little follow-up,” Smith said. “It’s just really sad that our cases don’t get investigated the way a white (woman’s) case would.”
Ionah Scully, a doctoral student in SU’s Department of Cultural Foundations of Education, said they feel most effective at activism and communicating with others in education. By teaching about Indigenous people, they are opening other people’s minds up, said Scully, who is Cree Métis of the Michel First Nation.
Their work focuses on colonization, the gender binary and Two Spirit — individuals who identify as having a masculine and feminine spirit — perspectives in dialogues with other people of color. They want to inform people about the history of Indigenous people in Syracuse and beyond.
It is a pandemic that’s happening where women, girls, and two spirit people are going missing, or they’re murdered, and there’s very little follow up with.
Danielle Smith, activist and member of the Onondaga Nation.
“The most important thing with activism, too, is the ways in which we care for each other,” Scully said.
Smith and Scully — with over a dozen other Indigenous activists from various nations — created an Indigenous-led organization called the Resilient Indigenous Action Collective. It advocates for decolonization and land reclamation, among other goals.
Members of the collective support keep each other going for “the fight ahead,” Scully said. The members come from a variety of Indigenous nations in New York, Canada and even the Amazon.
“We’re constantly fighting for recognition,” Smith said. “So for people to recognize that we’re still here, we’re thriving, we’re a community.”
SU freshman Alycia Cypress has also participated in activism related to Indigenous issues and is a member of Indigenous Students at Syracuse. Cypress wants to teach people about her Indigenous roots as a member of the Seminole Tribe in Florida. She wrote a piece for Jerk Magazine’s October issue about her experiences as an Indigenous person in the United States.
Just like Smith and Scully, Cypress said she wants to continue to help and teach people about her heritage and fight for the rights of Indigenous people.
“I feel like if you really want to learn about people and learn about their experiences, the best way for you to do that is to fully listen and not just kinda listen and expect that to be good enough,” Cypress said.
Published on November 17, 2020 at 12:02 am
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