Lucy Walton ‘21
It is not often that Indigenous or Native stories get the spotlight at Davidson. But on Tuesday, Feburary 4th, Kelley lecturer Andrés Reséndez brought such stories to the forefront in his lecture entitled “The Other Slavery.” The title itself is provoking. As Reséndez highlighted as he began the lecture, “slavery looms large” in history. But his focus was not on the African slave trade that listeners may be more familiar with, but the Indian slave trade.
Reséndez laid out an overview of the practice of Indian enslavement, tying it to the foundations of European colonialism. From the first contact with Europeans, Native people were stolen and forced into bondage, namely in domestic and mining settings in the southwest and central parts of what became known as North America. This practice lasted past Emancipation and the passage of the 13th Amendment, when Native Americans were declared exempt from the law because they were not citizens. Even after slavery ended, Native people were subject to harsh vagrancy laws, similar to those in the Jim Crow South, that could lead to their arrest, indentured servitude, or the removal of their children. This “Other Slavery” shares many similarities to slavery in the southeast, yet few people have heard about it at all.
In a country where many people are unable to acknowledge the brutal history of African enslavement, it is unsurprising that Indian enslavement receives even less attention; but that it is unsurprising does not mean it is right. Dr. Reséndez’s lecture gave Davidson students and faculty an opportunity to engage with a topic long obscured by the history’s gatekeepers. Without minimizing the importance of learning about Black enslavement, he challenged us to expand our perceptions of slavery in the Western Hemisphere to include the “other slavery” of Indigenous bondage. Joking about the inaccuracies of primary school’s curriculum on Indigenous peoples, he reminded us to never generalize history or stop trying to give our understandings nuance.
Though the importance of Dr. Reséndez’s lecture cannot be overstated, it should not just happen in a vacuum. One talk cannot give Davidson students the nuanced understanding of Indigenous and Native people that Reséndez was calling for—it has to be part of a greater conversation.
In particular, this was apparent to me when the lecture turned to conversations about the price differences between enslaved Native women and men. Reséndez explained that women were traditionally priced at 50% higher than men, a fact that baffled many audience members, leading to multiple questions during the Q&As. Dr. Reséndez gave them many theories as to why this was the case, including the sexual abuse of enslaved women. But the moment made me wonder how audience members’ experiences would have deepened if they had been armed with the work of scholar Sarah Deer, like I had, thanks to Dr. Rose Stremlau’s class The History of Rape. A member of Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Deer ties settler colonialism with sexual violence against Native women in the past and today in her work. Doubtless, she would have tied higher prices to the sexual exploitation and trafficking of Indigenous women. Having knowledge of her theories allowed me to better engage with these questions than I would have been able to otherwise. Yet, even with two classes focused on Native and Indigenous people this semester, I still feel there is so much more I need to learn. I don’t think I’ll ever know enough.
Settler colonialism and violence against Indigenous peoples on the land we now inhabit is woven into our nation’s history and is ongoing. The marginalization of Native people and threats to their sovereignty continue to this day. For these reasons, it is essential that lecturers like Dr. Reséndez continue to come to Davidson to educate us on these erased issues. But they are not enough. We cannot just learn about a single topic and call it a day. We need to do better, and so should our school. Davidson owes it to its students to allow us the opportunity to have these conversations regularly and to make this an academic focus for the students who wish to study it. Davidson needs Indigenous studies.
In some ways, it looks like we are on the right track. Historically, Davidson’s Spring 2020 Andrew W. Mellon Visiting Professor of Justice, Equality, and Community, Dr. Courtney Lewis, citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the college’s first Native American professor. With her and Dr. Stremlau’s help, the college hosted its first-ever panel made up entirely of citizens of Native nations on Indigenous food sovereignty, entitled “Policies and Plates.” The interest in both Dr. Lewis’s class and her event indicate potential for a thriving Indigenous studies program. But before an Indigenous studies program can ethically be created, Davidson has a long way to go, specifically on building relationships with the tribes or nations on whose land the college stands and hiring full-time professors who are Native American.
The popularity of Indigenous-focused courses and events shows that Davidson students are ready for Indigenous studies. It’s time for the school to catch up.
Lucy Walton ‘21 is a History and English double major from Cincinnati, Ohio. She can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.