Amherst College Associate Professor Lisa Brooks presented "Imagining an Indigenous Future: Adaptation, Decolonization and Sustainability in the Wake of Climate Change" at the Annual Daffodil Lecture sponsored by Commonwealth Honors College and the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Brooks, who teaches Native American studies and early American literature at Amherst College, presented in the Student Union Ballroom to a group of honors students, faculty, and staff.
Her presentation explored the erroneous belief that Native people exist in the past. She delved into the history of colonization and highlighted the accomplishments of Native authors and activists. According to Brooks, their work can aid the decolonization process by helping us to better understand the world.
"A lot of the work I do is about reclaiming Native space," she said.
Brooks began her presentation by displaying an image of a river and playing the sound of rushing water.
"I want you to imagine New England as a network of waterways and a network of Native homelands," she said.
She presented several different historical conceptions of Native lands. A 17th-century English map imagined the land divided up into pieces to be sold and re-settled. A different map conceptualized the Ohio River Valley as "a dish with one spoon" to be shared among the United Indian Nations, the United States, and British Canada. The 19th-century Manifest Destiny movement imagined that the United States had a claim to the entire continent.
"Networks of Indian people were swept away by images of Manifest Destiny," Brooks said.
Brooks explained that stereotypes of Native people, including "the crying Indian who rides off into the American past," are false and damaging. American movies like Dances With Wolves imagine that Native people have disappeared into history, she added. She instead pointed the audience to Native authors like Leslie Silko who imagine Native "adaptation and regeneration" in the face of colonization and climate change. She also told the real-life story of a wetland area near Lake Champlain called Grandma Lampman's site, which was deeply threatened in the 1990's in spite of its recognition as an important natural water filter. Native activists petitioned to be parties in the case, and successfully protected the land, which is still protected today.
Brooks concluded with a brief slideshow that displayed photos and headlines about the environment and climate change.
"Climate change and colonization go hand-in-hand," she said. "Can we adapt to climate change without decolonization?"