By Madison Williams
A commonplace recollection of 19th-century America evokes romanticized visions of an era known for dreams of manifest destiny, the ascendance of Jacksonian democracy, and the rise of the Gilded Age. However, this golden age of American expansion might be more accurately characterized by the U.S. government's cruel dispossession of Native Americans across the country through legislation that sustained government sanctioned violence and attempts at assimilation. Today, the enormous suffering felt by Native Americans at the hands of the U.S. government is no secret, yet this torture and enduring pain is thought of as a piece of the past. The problem with this attempt at public forgetting lies in the fact that "these settler ambitions, practices, and assertions" remain present, unchanged, and reproduced through the archival work done at this time.
Archives traditionally consist of a repository of historical documents, personal or scholarly papers, permanent records, and original documentation. They hold a collection of materials providing information about a place, institution, group of people, or individual; materials preserved because of the enduring value in the information they contain. Generally, archives are concerned with preserving primary sources, which is why archives are so often seen as unquestionably accurate and entirely neutral. After all, what could be more reliable, more credible, more true than an authentic artifact, a first-hand account, an original correspondence, or scientifically collected documentation?
Kimberly Christen and Jane Anderson address these issues directly in their article "Toward Slow Archives," asserting that colonial power is more that just present in archival records, in fact, "the history of collection is the history of colonialism" (92). They explore the practices, policies, projects, and technologies responsible for producing the Native American records collected by researchers in the 19th-century, identifying the colonial influence present in the purpose of the information being collected, what they chose to include, and, perhaps most importantly, whose voices they choose to silence.
As the government rapidly advanced its efforts to displace, destruct, and assimilate Native Americans, researchers embarked on a mission to preserve "supposedly dying Native cultures and languages" (94), effectively linking "colonial efforts, territorial displacement, and preservation practices together under the nomenclature of scientific advancement" (94). These records—made possible thanks to new technologies such Thomas Edison's cylinder phonographic recorder—represent Native Americans as objects, void of perspective, and without voices. Pioneered (pun-intended) by anthropologist Jesse Walter Fewkes, the quickly standardized use of the recorder in fieldwork to create "scientific documentation" sustained the colonial view of archival production as inherently un-bias. This silencing of Native American voices is powerfully illustrated by Christen and Anderson as they state: "Fewkes did not, of course, explicitly link the 'vanishing' or 'disappearing' of Native people, languages, and cultural practices to the nation’s policies and practices of displacement, violence, and removal" (96)
Recently, the City of Milwaukee celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples' Day, a statewide officially designated holiday, which will serve as a permanent replacement for the federally recognized Columbus Day. The unveiling of one Milwaukee County Park’s new signage memorialized this day as they proudly displayed the transformation of Columbus Park to Indigenous People's Park. This change is made in an effort to bring to light the often ignored injustice and violence indigenous people suffered at the hands of Christopher Columbus, and, as stated by Milwaukee County Supervisor Felesia Martin, to act as a measure "not to erase but to [create]... a complete narrative of U.S. history." Milwaukee County is home to a number of tribes, including the Menominee, Fox, Mascouten, Sauk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe, and Ho-Chunk; however, the impressive, and ultimately successful, campaign for renaming the park was launched solely by a tenacious group of students at Franklin's Indian Community School.
We can work to decolonialize Indigenous archives by intentionally "keeping colonial structures and practices in our view—as they are manifest in our institutions, policies, practices, and technologies—we can begin the work of tearing them down and building anew" (98). We can construct a new public memory, allowing Native Americans to control their own narrative, and, in turn, dissolving the power possessed by the colonial structures still in place today. Although renaming a local park may seem a small feat in the grand scheme of colonialism's effect on America today, it is a monumental accomplishment toward the effort of Native Americans in Milwaukee to control their own narrative and discontinue the possibility of public forgetting.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar
Fall 2019 marks the official launch of our program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement at UWM. My colleagues and I are also excited to welcome two new faculty members to our program: Dr. Derek Handley and Dr. Maria Novotny. To help everyone get to know them better, I asked Derek and Maria a series of questions about their experience and vision for the new program. In this post, we’ll learn a bit about Derek and Maria’s background with research and part 2 will focus on their teaching and goals for the future of the program.
What is your experience with community-engaged research?
Maria: I draw on my work with the ART of Infertility to inform my community-engaged scholarship. As a resource organization, I host multimodal art workshops for reproductive loss patients to depict their experiences with grief and the reproductive healthcare industry. Once patient pieces are created, I invite patient-participants to narrate their infertility experiences through their artwork. Today, the organization has over 200 pieces of narrative art, of which, I incorporate into art exhibitions around the U.S. I understand these exhibits as evidence of how art rhetorically translates technical, scientific, and medical experiences into accessible experiences for non-experts to grasp and ignite community-engaged action. My purpose is to act as an ally to remove the embedded cultural stigma of receiving an infertility diagnosis and create resources that educate healthcare providers, and the public at-large, on the sociocultural challenges faced by the reproductive loss community.
Derek: My research focuses on African American community rhetorical histories which means I have to do research in the archives and in the local neighborhoods. I conduct interviews with community members, walk the locations where historical events took place, and attend community events. I also like to take students on walking tours of these historic neighborhoods.
What are you currently working on?
Derek: I am currently working on my book project, “The Places We Knew So Well Are No More:” A Rhetorical History of Urban Renewal and the Black Freedom Movement. In particular, I’m focusing on the Milwaukee section of the book where rhetorical education played a significant role in helping residents understand the complexities of urban renewal. In addition, I’m working on a conference paper (National Communications Association) about St. Paul, Minnesota, which will also be featured in my book. My paper explores how race is implicated in the contested spaces and places of urban renewal policies. But more importantly, it will examine the rhetorical actions taken by residents in St. Paul in an effort to save their community from the wrecking balls of eminent domain during the 1950s and 60s.
Maria: I’m currently co-editing special issues for The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics on “Curation: A Multimodal Practice for Socially-Engaged Action”, Computers and Composition on “Rhetorics of Data: Collection, Consent, & Critical Digital Literacies”, and Reflections on “Rhetorics of Reproductive Justice in Public and Civic Contexts”. While on the surface those themes may appear distinct, the calls emphasize scholarly contributions that consider how curation may act as a response for social action.
Related, I’m working on a co-authored book project with Dr. John Gagnon (University of Hawaii-Manoa). We published “Research as Care: A Shared Ownership Approach to Rhetorical Research in Trauma Communities,” which offers a cultural rhetorical framework for collaborating with trauma participants for rhetorical research. Our book project tentatively titled, Care as a Practice: Reorienting Research in Rhetoric and Writing Studies, offers a cultural rhetorics infused methodological framework to inform the design and ethical enactment of community-engaged research projects. Our manuscript expands on and explains the idea of care as a research practice, demonstrates the efficacy of a care-centered research paradigm, and delivers concrete models for how to enact care methodologically.
The UWM Archives is one of the only institutions in Wisconsin with a social justice collection strength. Combined with its focus on Milwaukee and UWM history, the repository is filled with local stories of community organizers and activists. UWM’s Latino Activism collection contains photos, correspondence, press releases, newspaper clippings, and official university documents that detail the struggle for Latino rights on campus. In the early 1970s, Milwaukee’s Latino population exploded, but the number of Latino students on campus was pitifully low in comparison. University staff and community members attributed these low enrollment rates to the lack of support for Latino students on campus, so Latino activists took their case to Chancellor Klotsche. After sit-ins, protests, camp outs, and several arrests, the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, later called the Roberto Hernandez Center, began to connect with and assist UWM’s Latino population. I took a look at some of the records in the Latino Activism collection to see what they had to say about the power of Latinx rhetorics and community.
Community was the backbone of the Latino activism movement at UWM in the 1970s. This flyer, titled “Latin community takes over UWM Chancellor’s office”/ “Comunidad Latina retoma la oficina del rector de UWM,” is an explicit call to community for assistance in direct action. Calling themselves “the latin community,” there is no distinction between students and non-students, only the call to “support” in occupying the Chancellor’s office. This blending of community and use of family support has been a class trend for Milwaukee-based Latino activism. They rhetorically link their purpose in protesting to Klotsche’s absence at a community meeting, asserting their occupation as a direct response to disrespect and disinterest. This connection between administrative absence and occupation is an interesting rhetorical strategy that simultaneously legitimizes their tactics and calls attention to institutional buffoonery. The flyer is also written in English and Spanish, indicating the varied languages within Latino community in addition to their attempt to garner support from non-Spanish speaking allies.
After the Latino occupation of Chancellor Klotsche’s office, UWM acquiesced to the creation of a Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. This document is the official proposal and “commitment” of the institute, outlining ten guiding principles. This record is drastically different from the flyer in several ways. First, this record does not make a direct call to any community. It mentions the “Spanish speaking community,” but later refers to the issues of “non-English speaking” students as if they are interchangeable. Second, the rhetorical strategies suggest that the creator of the record, the Council for the Education of Latin Americans (CELA), was interested in “solv[ing] the problems of the Spanish speaking community,” rather than rectifying the institutional inequality related to these problems. The document explicitly details the disappointingly low number of Latino students that UWM was willing to support through the institute, indicating tokenization rather than inclusivity. Lastly, this document is only written in English, suggesting that its intended audience was not the Spanish speaking people it was supposedly addressing, but the English speaking CELA and UWM administration.
UWM’s Latino Activism archive details the community activism and rhetorical power used to create the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. Milwaukee’s Latino activists and the community that supported them are directly responsible for the resources and connections available to contemporary Latino students. While some of these historical documents indicate a deliberate disregard for a multilingual community, the UWM archive has done some work to alleviate this. The metadata for the records, which is necessary for searching, browsing, and researching, is available in both English and Spanish. It’s important that these records are available in multiple languages since they directly pertain to the Spanish speaking community. The Archive also follows Library of Congress subject terms which are typically limiting and outdated. The collection subject terms include "Hispanic Americans," which we've discussed several times in class as homogenizing and eurocentric. Aside from these criticisms, the UWM Archive is a great place to dive into the rich history of Latino activism on campus.