Taking their education outside the classroom, a group of Knox students is determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Over the weekend of January 22, in the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, ice storms and strong winds downed over 3,000 utility poles. Thousands of reservation residents have been without power since that time.
Students taking History 381: Time and Place in American Indian Cultures with Professor Catherine Denial have banded together to raise funds for the tribe.
Senior Ashley Atkinson learned of the tribe’s troubles from a friend at the University of Minnesota.
“I thought immediately of asking my classmates to help,” she said. “We […] thought that raising money through a bake sale was the best way to help the Cheyenne Dakota (also called the Sioux, though their original name is Dakota).”
The class contacted several clubs, but none were able to contribute financially. In wake of this, the students contributed their own funds and time to buy supplies and bake. Members of Mortar Board and APO have assisted the class in baking and tabling for the cause.
The class’s reaction to the storm aligns with one of the course’s major themes.
According to Denial, students in the course are constantly encouraged to ask, “How do we avoid perpetuating the patterns of colonialism in our research? How do we become aware of the privilege we bring to our work? How do we give back to the communities whose histories we study?”
Atkinson had these questions in mind when she proposed the fundraiser to her class.
“I think we all felt personally connected to this cause because we are specifically studying the Dakota in the upper Midwestern region, and since the first half of our class has been concerned with ethics, we have sought ways to help without repeating the past mistakes of our European ancestors,” she said. “We felt that this was one way to give back to a community we were studying and drawing wisdom from.”
Senior Erin Souza agreed that taking the course grants the issue more personal significance.
“I feel like it’s important, because I’m studying their history and culture. Knowing their past, how they got to that reservation, how could I ignore their current situation?” she said.
Atkinson is surprised by the lack of national coverage the Cheyenne River Sioux’s dilemma has received.
“I think it highlights the problem that Americans have often ignored or made matters worse for Native American Indians while it gave billions of dollars in aid to foreign countries,” she said. “It’s astounding that many are forced to live in reservations without clean water, adequate supplies of food, their own far-reaching systems of government or even proper housing structures.”
The efforts of these students have not failed to escape the notice of their professor. Denial is impressed by her class’s work outside the classroom.
“I’m enormously proud of the students who are participating in the fundraiser for their organization, the gift of their time, their willingness to spend time baking, but most of all for the thought they’ve invested in connecting their life here at Knox with a community several hundred miles away and for expanding the work done in our classrooms to become work we do in every part of our lives.”
Students will be tabling through the end of this week.
To donate to the relief of the Cheyenne River Sioux, visit https://secure.piryx.com/donate/0oFFsK8c/Cheyenn-River-Sioux-Tribe/