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    • Ned Blackhawk, Brander Blackhawk’s father, gives a speech on Understanding Indigenous Enslavement.

The Native Experience at Hopkins: An Interview with Eva Brander Blackhawk

As Hopkins commemorates its 360 anniversary this year, how will the school acknowledge its connection to Native American erasure in Connecticut?
In the Calarco Library stairwell history display, the narrative that Hopkins presents is missing any acknowledgment of the Native people who once lived on what is now Hopkins’s campus, and Edward Hopkins’ involvement. The expansive 1660 and 360 campaigns glorify the length of Hopkins’s history, but fail to recognize its weight. We asked Eva Brander Blackhawk of the Western Shoshone Te-Moak tribe to share a glimpse of what it means to be Native at Hopkins, and to share her perspective on the importance recognizing Native history.

Could you share how it feels to be a Native student at Hopkins?
Without any Native teachers, faculty, coaches, or mentors there is no one at Hopkins that I can talk to about being Native. When there are no other Native students or faculty, I begin to question myself; I cannot help but feel that I am weird and don’t fit in. Especially in a period of my life where I am trying to figure out who I am and who I want to be, it is crushing to have no way to connect to such a big part of myself. I am lucky to have my dad, his Native students at Yale, and his help in finding Native communities. I’m grateful to have his help and knowledge, but I can’t find my own Native identity when my dad is my only connection to any Native identity.

It is also difficult to be a Native student because it is exhausting to explain that Native people still exist. It is embarrassing to always be the one to speak up. Sometimes, it’s easier to be complicit than to be brave. Sometimes, it’s too tiring to stand up for myself and I let people say racist, ignorant things because I don’t want to have to be the person always fighting for things to be better.

I also get a lot of comments about my race that are hurtful. When I was applying to colleges, people told me that I would only get into college because I’m Native. This discredits the work that I do and the person I am. This comment implies that people are surprised that someone who’s Native American is getting into a college. The same people who label me as a “diversity checkbox” don’t realize that these colleges only have maybe 30 Native students maximum. Ask yourself why colleges don’t have Native students, and why Hopkins doesn’t, instead of making assumptions about me and my race.

Another common comment I get is “are you really Native?” which is hurtful because they’re implying that I’m not Native enough. When you ask me if I am “really Native” you are perpetuating an archaic way to erase Native people. The people who make these comments (and are white) never have their race questioned. No one says “you’re white so getting into college is easier for you,” despite almost every college being largely white. No one ever says, “Are you really Italian? How Italian are you?” People don’t doubt the legitimacy of being white, but people constantly try to assert that I am not Native enough. In my time at Hopkins I’ve been scared and ashamed of my Native identity. I have not spoken up despite seeing these problems for six years. It is hard to not feel guilty about not doing something sooner. And the darker truth is that I struggle with these things because, for generations, people have tried to kill native people and native culture.

Why is it important to acknowledge and understand Hopkins’s connection with the Native people of Connecticut?
History informs and is present in everything we do. My dad, the first ever Native full-time professor at any Ivy League, teaches Native history at Yale so I have been taught to appreciate Native history and the ways it manifests. I think it is important to acknowledge and understand the history so that we are informed in the ways we choose to live our current lives and the ways we hope to live in the future. A complete understanding of this country requires knowing about the people who lived here before European colonization and who still live in this country. The isolation and shame I felt around my Native identity has come from the legacies of colonization. The reason my grandfather does not want to share and pass on knowledge of their culture is because they were so deeply traumatized by boarding schools that punished them for having this culture. Why am I one of the only Native students at Hopkins? What happened to the Native people who were in this area? Why don’t they go to Hopkins?

What do you want the Hopkins community to learn and or gain from this research?
I hope that students at Hopkins can learn that, to some extent, they have been lied to. To market Hopkins so aggressively as “1660” and “360 years” without even remotely addressing the historical weight this has is not only inaccurate to that history, but perpetuates the cycle of ignoring and erasing Native history and culture. I hope that Hopkins students can question what they are taught and what is missing. I hope they can question the way they live at Hopkins, what’s missing from that, and think about how many people do not get the same opportunity. I hope that teachers at Hopkins can continue to try their hardest to teach truthfully and completely about their subjects and that they learn more about Native history and culture and teach more about it. I hope the school institutionally can do better. I know they can. There is so much that Hopkins can do to give back to Native communities in Connecticut and to establish a relationship with those communities. There are many other schools that are setting examples; it’s time Hopkins follows these examples.

I hope that Native people at Hopkins feel less alone and I hope they know they should not be ashamed of their culture. They should be allowed to embrace it.
I want to make the community and school I wish I had. I also hope that Native people at Hopkins can feel confident enough to continue to push for greater inclusion for other Native people. I ultimately hope that someday there will be a Native community within the community of Hopkins.

How do you hope this history is acknowledged or displayed at Hopkins?
A very common way to recognize the history of Native genocide and colonization is through a land recognition. Many schools also offer students Native to the land on which the school was founded free or lowered tuition. For example, McGill has free tuition for all Native people from Canada or the United States. Many schools also have written commitments to hiring or recruiting students of different minority races. I think at the very least Hopkins needs a land acknowledgment and a commitment to more diversity.
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