July 12th, 2022
Hawk Lessard gives wide-ranging presentation
JCLS topics range from Supreme Court cases to Redskins' nickname
The United States Supreme Court was a hot topic last Wednesday night at Garrett College, but not because of its recent decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. The cases of interest were Haaland v. Brackeen, Cherokee Nation v. Brackeen, and Texas v. Haaland.
"The cases right now before the Supreme Court are about non-native couples wanting to adopt native children and not being able to do so," explained Kerry Hawk Lessard, a descendant of Assiniboine and Shawnee people, during her Joan Crawford Lecture Series presentation, entitled Rez-Colored Glasses: Disentangling Indigenous Lives from the Colonial Gaze.
"What they're [the plaintiffs] saying is they can't adopt a native child because of some race-based bias," continued Hawk Lessard, executive director of Baltimore-based Native American LifeLines, Inc. "The Indian Child Welfare Act exists because, at one point in time . . . native children were taken from their families with the thought being that native parents weren't able to care for their children and give them the tools they needed to survive.
"And so in this way a lot of assimilation happened, a lot of disenfranchisement from native culture happened," concluded Hawk Lessard.
Hawk Lessard's presentation included a slide with a mural created by artist Gregg Deal (Pyramid Lake Paiute), with a direct message: What you think you know about Indians is probably wrong. As just one example . . . while there are 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States, more than two-thirds of the country's Native American population lives in urban areas.
"Native people were encouraged or compelled to leave their reservations and move to cities," said Hawk Lessard. "Or, now, they leave the reservation for economic or educational opportunities."
Indigenous people often find urban environments that aren't interested in understanding their perspectives. Hawk Lessard used the controversy over the former Washington Redskins' nickname as a prime example.
"The D.C. football team and [owner] Dan Snyder went to reservations where people are typically very poor and typically would not ever be able to afford to go to an NFL game," said Hawk Lessard. "They offered to send kids from the rez [reservation] on a bus to see a game – the catch was they had to wear Redskins gear.
"You're dangling this stuff to really poor kids," she observed. "And saying, ‘We'll give you this thing, but we're trying to curate this image – that you're OK with that. Basically, you're being used as props.' How does that make sense?"
Hawk Lessard said she further explored the controversy over the team's name by reviewing related online articles and "curating comments in the ‘comments' section by people who defended the name." She then showed a slide with two reader comments:
Native Americans have amongst the highest rates of unemployment, drug use and poverty. How about focusing on that rather than this silly argument over the name of a sports team?
Who cares what they think? Hail to the Redskins.
"Somebody who loves their football team is deciding what should be important to native people," concluded Hawk Lessard.
Hawk Lessard's organization, Native American Lifelines, Inc., is a Baltimore-based Urban Indian Health Program that serves Urban Indian Americans and Alaska Natives in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the United States. The organization focuses on the "health and well-being of native people" who often have to deal with "the way we've been disenfranchised from Indian culture."