This is a letter to the editor by Monique Flynn, an interdisciplinary artist and Ithaca resident of Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ and Irish descent. It was not written by the Ithaca Voice. To submit letters to the editor, please send them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the recent Ithaca City Administration Committee 3-2 vote to table the #HalftownMustGo resolution, committee member George McGonigal said what’s happening within the Cayuga Nation is not unusual for the Haudenosaunee, and that “in many other (Haudenosaunee) nations there’s a conflict between traditionalists and the factions looking to take advantage of modern capitalism and gambling.” What is not unusual is the abuse of power that allows a city official to reinforce racist stereotypes and suggest there are Haudenosaunee people who are “looking to take advantage of modern capitalism and gambling.”
What is more of the usual is the ongoing dehumanization of Haudenosaunee people and the lack of public education about Residential Schools, Indian Day Schools, Indian reservations, the history and impact of casinos on reserves, treaties and treaties not being honored, blood quantum policies, status card policies, and MMIW (missing and murdered indigenous women). Instead, we have a public education system built on turning indigenous genocide into celebratory rhymes for children: “1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” And in case the message of Columbus Day isn’t clear enough, many Ithaca children attend a school named after Simeon DeWitt.
Committee member Jeffrey Barken, questioning the urgency of the #HalftownMustGo campaign and expressing his interest in hearing from more members of the Cayuga Nation, is not an act of “fairness,” but a move from the oldest dirtiest trick in the book: if you want to discredit or dismiss a message of truth and call for justice, make it personal. In the early 1990s, the Ithaca City Schools started calling home because I refused to stand and say the pledge of allegiance, teaching me at a young age about the silencing tactics used when one sings songs of resistance in spaces committed to colonialism rather than decolonization. There are families within the Ithaca community of mixed cultural backgrounds whose members either didn’t have the opportunity to learn about their culture or were taught not to talk about it because of what would happen if they did. Some recount stories of being taunted on Ithaca school playgrounds with terms like “dirty Indian” and “Indian giver.” Yet there has been no collective move towards addressing this injustice nor healing this trauma.
As I write this letter, I am listening to Stadium Pow Wow by The Halluci Nation, two of which founding members are of the Cayuga Nation. I am thinking of Deb Haaland and wonder what she would say about the recent comments made by Ithaca City Administrators who voted to table the #HalftownMustGo resolution. I am remembering my grandfather who made sure I know who I am, and I do. I am a descendant of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ who have been sustained by Turtle Island since time immemorial. My heart beats with the strength of a drum that could not be destroyed, and this is my call to Turtle Island to stand in solidarity with the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ.