Guest columnist Aislyn Jewett: ‘Amplify what Indigenous people have to say’

Published: 10/18/2021 12:48:22 PM

It has certainly been interesting reading all the lamentation by mostly white people about cancel culture, censorship and being a sore loser in regards to the recent cancellation of the Biennial arts show. Many people have even said, “Well, it doesn’t seem like genocide art to me,” though they have no experience about what it means to be Indigenous.

As a young white person who has lived in this city for most of my life, I believe we need to take a big cue from Andrea Ayvazian’s recent column about “nice racism,” which is perpetrated by self-proclaimed “progressive” white people. What you are all doing here, by refusing to truly listen to and center an Indigenous voice, is furthering “nice racism” and the supremacy of progressive white viewpoints, narrative, and ultimately, power in Northampton.

I acknowledge that the claims made against this artwork were ageist and made assumptions about the artists’ background and viewpoints because of her age, gender, and race, and that ageism is a real form of oppression, but that is not the point here.

The point is that, as many Indigenous people have expressed, an artwork memorializing Indigenous genocide, as with land acknowledgments and the switch to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, is worse than empty if not accompanied by meaningful and significant action to repair harm done and uplift Indigenous communities.

In an episode of the podcast “All My Relations” (a podcast by and about Indigenous people that I highly recommend!) called “ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving?”, Wampanoag scholar Paula Peters shares that in first grade, the teacher taught the history of Thanksgiving, ending by saying that, sadly, all the Indians died. Peters shares that she had to assert, “No, I’m Wampanoag, and I’m still here,” and has been doing that throughout the country for her whole life. The host responds, “If we’re always having to say we’re still here, we’re never getting to have complex conversations about self-determination, nation building, rematriation, building better school systems, and Indigenous futures.”

Jason Montgomery’s message is clear: this artwork takes power away from Indigenous futures. Include Indigenous people in your exhibition so they can tell their own stories.

Centering Indigenous voices is not conditional. We do not get to decide to do it only when that voice is being “respectful” or not threatening our whiteness and sense we are “progressive” because we acknowledge the genocide and trauma inflicted upon Indigenous people. If we acknowledge that, we have a moral obligation to use our power and work to repair the harm.

Open your purse and send funds to Indigenous people! Support land rematriation and cultural revitalization! Amplify what Indigenous people have to say and don’t supersede your own non-lived-experience viewpoints!

I support dialogue on this issue, and meaningful and consensual solidarity and relations between Indigenous and white people, when white people educate themselves on Indigenous issues and stop stealing the narrative.

If anyone feels I have made a mistake or misrepresented people, I want to know. Please contact me at

Aislyn Jewett lives in Northampton.

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