Back when I was in college, I had a difficult time recruiting students for Voices of Indigenous People. Granted I was in rural Vermont, I felt that students on campus had a misunderstanding of who can or cannot participate in this Native American student organization. From what I heard, students felt that they had to be full-blood or mixed Native Americans in order join us. But as an organization, we encouraged everyone to join V.I.P. especially if they are interested in learning about Indigenous culture, politics, and history. But our membership declined and we hardly had community support and collaboration on campus. From 2009-2011, staff and students on campus had no idea what V.I.P. stood for and what V.I.P. did to promote Indigenous awareness on campus. It sadly echoed the Pan-American Indian struggle to represent our people, our culture, and our history in the United States in the 21st Century.
I thought it was going to be all over when Middlebury College announced the possibility of terminating V.I.P. by 2011. I felt like a complete failure as a leader for not securing the space of the student organization for future Native American students in Middlebury College.
During my four years in Middlebury College, V.I.P. shaped the person I am today. All these lectures, screenings, performances, symposiums, and members taught me life lessons about their experiences as native American college students in Vermont. I never thought I would find a community who understood my identity crisis. I was taught to identify as “Latino” or “Ecuadorian,” but I felt like it was not my place to say “Indigenous” or “Indian.” V.I.P. gave me the space to explore my mixed-Indigenous identity.
V.I.P. leaders and founders did their best to keep the student organization running. Each year, they encountered a unique struggle and tried to solve it. V.I.P. was a small community of about ten Native and non-Native students who found a space to call a second home and shared their thoughts with a community. As Co-President in my first term, I took the torch and went through my own struggles that all of my predecessors went through.
In my second term, I changed the constitution of V.I.P., approached a different recruitment strategy, but most importantly, I asked to switch advisors because a new staff in the History Department had the experience and knowledge V.I.P. members needed in order to increase in quantity and quality. His name was Professor Doug, an American Indian professor who taught Native American studies at Middlebury College.
Instead of celebrating Columbus Day, V.I.P. chose to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as a way to recruit students to our student organization. We recruited about twenty five students who were eager to learn why V.I.P. thought Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day were national holiday cover-ups of the real history of the genocide that took place in North and South America.
We opened the meeting with an introductory documentary clip Babakiueria (Barbecue Area), a film that showed how Euro-Australians were the colonized population and the Aboriginals were the colonizers in the 21st century. It definitely caught their attention because they saw how the majority could easily become the minority under a political force that had the power to control, impose, and threat an oppressed population through fear. It was a reality for many students when the roles switched in the documentary and they discussed about white privilege, education, and social justice. If interested in watching this documentary, click here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7QGPXEycNQ
It is that moment when I realized that V.I.P. was a small community of powerful voices that carried momentum and believed in improving the lives of people, animals, and plants on Mother Earth. Like V.I.P., there are clusters of small communities nationwide and worldwide, whether Indigenous or not, where people share similar visions to do social justice and take action and defend our planet.