The co-leaders of SAIC’s Native American Students Association (NASA), Carly Trujilo, Lexie Billie, and Camille Billie join us on air to drop some recs for their favorite contemporary Native artists, writers, and musicians, and to talk about issues of academic-self representation and the Roger Brown Collection. Part 1 of a 2-part interview, recorded in late August 2020.
See below for transcript, including links to their recommendations.
Carly Trujilo: We’ll try and be organized. Usually, like, our meetings like we kind of just talk about this that and the other, so, like… for this purpose we’ll try. (Crosstalk) yeah it might, maybe… that is… a warning, I hope that’s not…
Camille Billie: Linear speaking’s a colonial construct
Camille: We speak in spirals cause everything’s connected.
Carly: Yes (laughs)
Leo: Fair enough!
(Intro music plays)
Leo: All right, uh, welcome to Freeradio SAIC, we’re here with uh NASA, today, the Native American Students Association at SAIC, uh, this is the fourth or fifth in our series of uh interviews with student groups and other members of SAIC of the SAIC community, uh, in partnership with Freeradio, I’m Leo Smith from F Newsmagazine, uh, thank you so much for being with here, being here with me today, NASA, um, would you guys like to introduce yourselves to our listeners?
Camille: Yes! Um, my name’s Camille, and my second name is Katahtu’ntha, I have two names, I love them both, one was given to me by my mom, and the other one was given to me by the elders in my tribe that I’m from, I’m Oneida, and I’m a co-leader of NASA.
Carly: Um, my name is Carly, I go by she/her pronouns, I um am native to the Southwest, I’m from New Mexico, and I’m a co-leader of the Native American Student Association.
Lexie Billie: Hi, I’m Lexie, um, I’m also a co-leader of the Native American Student Association. Um, my tribe, I’m part of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, um, we stemmed off from Seminole, um, my like clan is Otter, and I’m studying art therapy.
Leo: Awesome. Um, so, how long have uh you guys been each been members of NASA?
Camille: Um, I started my first year, actually, because Lexie saw my name, on the email list, a first, at first I just wanted to be a part of the email list to receive, I guess, updates, cause Ana was the, like a co-leader, or just the leader of NASA at the time, my first year.
Carly: Yeah. I’m a third-year too. Um, and I started going to NASA meetings as soon as I could, because, or, or they were called “Indigenous at SAIC” at the time. I, I went to the student group fair, because I knew that there was a Native American group, because I had looked on Engage before I came to the school, and I went to Ana at the student group fair, and I was like, um, I, I was very emotional going up to her, cause I was just so excited about it. She was like, “Oh, yeah,” um, she asked me something like, like, “Oh, like what are you excited about for the group?” Cause I like showed up with so much like, like enthusiasm for like just like being around other Natives and stuff, and she was like, like “What do you want, are you interested in the events or whatever?” And I was just like, “I’m just happy to have community!” And then I just started going, and I met Camille and Lexie there, and then, uh, my second year I started being a co-leader, like, Camille. Like, we all, we all started being co-leaders.
Lexie: Um, at probably the same time, like, around them too, um, my first year I didn’t really know too much about Indigenous at SAIC? I had heard about it, but, um, I only knew the past like, um, like a couple people that were in it, but not really. And then, I knew Ana, or Ana, sorry, um, like around the campus, and she was like, “yeah, come to the meetings, come to the meetings!” I was just like, “Ok, yeah, that sounds cool.”
Leo: That’s so fun. Nice. So, when did uh, when did you guys change the group name of the group?
Camille: What like, last year, was it?
Carly: Yeah (crosstalk)
Lexie: Yeah. I think last year.
Carly: When we became co-leaders.
Camille: Cause “Indigenous at SAIC” a mouthful.
Carly: Yeah, really difficult to say.
Camille (crosstalk) And we were like “NASA sounds cooler.” (laughs)
Leo: Yeah that’s awesome. It’s a great name. Um, so, what would you say is uh NASA’s central mission at SAIC?
Camille: Um, just like, building community for Indigenous people. Like, our focus definitely is like Native American students, because that is where we are. America. You’re on our land, and we are a space that acknowledges that beyond just the land acknowledgement. Like, we’re creating a space and a community and a space basically where like, we get it. You’re Native, bro, and so am I. And like, we also acknowledge like, the vast spectrum of what it means to be native. Like, everybody’s indigenous to somewhere, and like, we celebrate that. So even if you’re not Native American, you’re still obviously welcome. Like, um, recognizing your roots and celebrating them and hanging out with us is like, an act of decolonization, and that’s honestly what NASA condones. Decolonizing. (laughs)
Carly: Yeah, I definitely like the way you put it, um, because like, we are a student group that’s open to a lot of people, and I feel like I’m really proud of NASA because we um like, our Native students and our non-Native students feel enthusiastic to come back? Because we make that connection, like, even if we don’t have big events and stuff like that, we still like make the point like our main priority or at least the way I see it in my mind is the like, consistent meetings, so that like, we make that connection with people, cause I think that like even though we have, sometimes there’s a bit of a turnover rate with students of color at the school, es, like, you know, Black and Indigenous people in particular, even though that is the case, like, we’re making like, we’re making connections with these people beyond that, even if they don’t continue to stay at the school, because they don’t necessarily feel like they’re getting the support that they need. Like, at least we can provide community. Um. And yeah, also, decolonizing your identity no matter where you’re from, is super important to us, even though we do focus on Native American students, we acknowledge, everybody’s native to somewhere.
Lexie: I think it’s also important to create that type of group because, within any institutional setting, like, especially like college, like, most of us ended up like coming from so far, from different places, and being Native that like, that means like leaving your home and a lot of times, that means, like, leaving like your language and your like, like all these different things — but to have this like, little bits of it, like this little bits of like community like has really helped.
Camille: Yeah. I love NASA. So much. And it’s like, if, I feel like NASA was kind of like a big stick-it to genocide, like, “Ha. We’re here. Even in your colonial institution. Ha!”
Carly: Yes. It, it really means a lot to just know there’s fellow Natives where you are, or at least people that are like, you know, are making the work to like reconnect with that identity. I think, because, it’s like, you know like, I’ve been, I’ve been removed from my identity, and having people from like, you know, from all different kinds of backgrounds and like a different histories, with their, like, nativeness to the Americas, like, being able to like, I dunno, yeah, not having to fight (laughs) um, yeah, cause cause we’re constantly having to like be like very vocal about like our nativeness, and we’re, we’re begging a lot of the time to like be seen for who we are. And so, it’s nice to not, to have a space where we don’t feel like we have to do that.
Lexie: I think the space to, um, I think having the space honestly like re-establishes like how, like, the vernaculars used, especially like with um, our Indigenous students, and Indigenous faculty, because, like, a lot of times, it’s not just the art world, it’s any, any educational system. But it’s still one of those things where you go into like, a classroom, or you’re just like, ah, like, you hear about like, the Natives being of like “ancient whatever,” and it’s just like, no, I’m still here. There’s also a club downstairs that can like reiterate that, that I don’t have to really, like, fight you on that, cause it’s, it’s weird that like, as an Indigenous student, that I would still have to.
Camille: Yeah, and like, the fact that Chicago is one of the largest hubs for urban Indigenous people, um, and the only reason why I knew about this was because my parents knew about it? And the only reason they knew about it was because, basically, they’re more closely connected to the Great Depression than me, and they knew a lot of our family and other Indigenous families had left their reservations for work, and had gone to Chicago or other larger cities to find work. Uh. It’s just kind of frustrating, cause you know there’s like, hundreds, thousands of us here, but it’s like, we’re still invisible, even to each other. So like, at least having NASA, and then us being the stepping stone to getting other Indigenous people connected to the rest of the Indigenous community here, it’s like, really really big in knowing that you have people that are gonna like help you on that journey, too.
Leo: Mhm. So, uh, how many students are in NASA?
Camille: Numbers are lower right now. Cause a lot of them just like transferred out, and left. So, right now… it’s like… I wanna say, 8. Yeah. We’re a small squad right now. But we’re really tight. And all of our past members, who aren’t even at SAIC, we still stay in communication with them.
Carly: Um, that’s an issue that we run into sometimes. And I think that like, it’s kind of flattering, but also, it’s kind of like, tough, because, uh, non-Indigenous students see NASA as a resource, and I think that that’s, like, nice to some extent, I’m sorry, I hope you can’t hear that. Um. (laughs) But, I also think that it’s, sometimes people think that we are, Indigenous students who do labor for um people’s projects. For, for non-Indigenous people’s projects that have to do with, with something, that, you know, taps into like, something doing with the land, or something with indigeneity, um, and I think that like, that’s why we try to emphasize that we are are here for allies and stuff like that, but, our main priority and who speaks first in the group are the Indigenous people.
Leo: Mhm. … Yeah, so, um, so you’re saying that like, sometimes other students at SAIC think that NASA is here for uh like, a resource for them, as non-Indigenous students, but really, your main mission is to just like be there for each other as Indigenous students, and like, that’s priority one?
Carly: That’s a good way of putting it. It’s priority one. It’s not a matter that we are not there to answer questions that people have, cause we are, but our, if it ever compromises like, if it, if it ever you know, becomes laborious to us in a way that it feels toxic to us or it’s taking years off of our life, which sometimes it might feel like that, that’s, that, you know. We’re putting Natives first, and we’re not, not going to enable that, if, you know. When we catch it.
Lexie: Yeah. We started mainly that from like an encounter with like… mm… there was like a few encounters, but the main one was like, can I talk about the Roger Brown thing?
Camille: Go for it.
Carly: I want you to. (all laughing)
Lexie: I know, I’m just not certain–
Camille: Spill the tea!… do it.
Lexie: Basically what happened was that…personally I had a really bad experience, like, my first year — first of all, I don’t think… (sighs) This is just me. But I don’t, I was not really comfortable being at the school my first year, because we went to the Roger Brown institution. Um, I can’t remember the full name of it, it’s like “Art collection” or something like that — but I personally was not comfortable with going there in the first place, cause, like, my first encounter with it in the first place was like, a lot of like — um. I found like a lot of jackets that were like, Seminole, and then, like, I found like Palmetto dolls that were like, I recognized them, and then like across the room, I saw, like, a dancing dress that, like, it really bothered me, cause I was just like–like, these are things I have. Like these are things that are in my home, and I don’t really like that they’re on display in such a way that’s just like, well first of all, exploitative, in my opinion. But another thing was just that, like, they weren’t very respectful about it. And then me expressing that I did not like that these things were here, was just like, “oh, you know, there was like a Seminole girl here that was crying around about it — ” like, a year later–
Camille: That’s what um (crosstalk) … uh, I can’t think of her name, but she was like–
Lexie: First of all, I’m not Seminole.
Camille: Yeah, OK. Noted. Duly noted, I made that known. But um (laughs)
Lexie: No, I know.
Camille: So this was like way–what she said just then, that happened later. After her encounter, I had now, this is like, months later. So, I am now with my group, and we’re going to the Roger Brown collection, and we’re sitting, and she’s like, “Yeah, we have to like do this land acknowledgment because, we’re on Native land!” And then I was just kinda like… Did you mean it? Genuinely, though? And so, along with that, she was also like, “Yeah and we have like Native artifacts here, and there was like this Seminole girl who actually got really upset. She made it seem like they were stolen!” And I was like, “Maybe because they are!” (laughs) And then, I knew she was talking about you, because it was literally like a, like a watered-down summary of what you had told me, and I was like “Yo… she’s not even Seminole! I know exactly who you’re talking about, that’s big rude.” And then, she was like, “Whaaat!”
Carly: So, Roger Brown House Collection is not a safe space for Indigenous students. I, I was taken there, for school, and… I just, I, I don’t enjoy, it’s, it’s… I had one of the representatives of the Roger Brown Collection, like I was talking about, I was looking at the kachina dolls, kachina dolls are not something that, you know, are–it, it they have a complex history, like, they, they’ve been, they make fake kachina dolls that like represents, like, um, spirits that like don’t exist? Um, because the, like, because they’re like, “Well if we’re gonna sell it, we’re gonna sell different ones,” but there are ones that are not supposed to be looked at. So it’s like, I see a wall full of kachina dolls, and… it–
Camille: Especially when they’re nailed to the wall (crosstalk)
Carly: Yeah! Like, aw
Camille: I would just like to note…
Lexie: Yeah… (crosstalk)
Camille: They’re nailed to the wall. They’re not like sitting on a shelf, as they should be.
Lexie: I remember
Carly: Yeah… (Crosstalk) And I was like, looking at them…
Camille: Like, they’re not standing on a shelf like they deserve to be.
Carly: And, and one of the representatives of the Roger Brown Collection walks up to me, and, um, I’m like, “Oh, these, these are from you know, these these remind me of home, like, I, here’s a lot of these back home. And, and I’m like, I’m, you know, I’m Indigenous.” And, and then, you know, like, then she proceeds to ask me about, you know–cause I think that sometimes when you say you’re Indigenous, non-Indigenous people, especially white academics who think that they specialize in this stuff or they specialize in this stuff, they they think that they, you know, they want to inform you on something, so, she asked me, “Oh, well what, what tribe are you?” And it’s like, I, I’ve been, I’m not…I’m not enrolled, tribally, like, like i have a different relationship, like, and history with my nativeness, so it’s like… I, I don’t enjoy being put on the spot, like that? And then, also, it just, like, I know exactly the reason when, you know, I’m being asked by by a white academic, like, “Oh, well what, what tribe are you?” It’s like, this is not an amicable conversation like I’m, I’m feeling uncomfortable, and, also I know, I know that like, the fact that, you know, Roger Brown has not–there, there was an opportunity for them to talk to our group, and they did not follow through on it. Um, and then, once they they like, somebody was sent, to talk to our club, that wasn’t representing the Roger Brown collection, but just like asked a bunch of inflammatory questions, and we told them about that, they did not apologize to NASA. They apologized to the white Native American history professor, Cassie Smith.
Carly: They never spoke–they, they when they’re confronted, they did not speak to the Indigenous students. They spoke to a white person that they felt more comfortable with.
Leo: Do you think that’s like pretty emblematic of how, like, white uh art academia treats Indigenous people? And like Indigenous art?
Lexie: I think that’s how…
Carly (laughing) Yes…
Lexie: I think that’s how any like white academic ends up kind of treating like, their students a lot of times. And, a lot of times they kind of are like, “Well, I’m one of the nice ones,” Or, you know, like, “Well I worked with,” a lot of the–I love, I’m in the Art Therapy department, but a lot of times they’re like, “Yeah, I worked over here for some time, like, so that makes me a ‘good’ you know, nudge nudge, like good person…” And it’s just like, well…
Carly: “I worked on the Navajo rez for a while, oh, I did some teaching there, and I just saw some horrible tragedies,” and it’s like, I kn–I, I know! Why are you telling me this? (laughter)
Lexie: I my favorite was like in my Core class, like, I can’t even remember her name, and I probably don’t wanna call her out too bad, cause she honestly wasn’t the worst, but she was just like, “Yeah, I worked with Minnesota Natives at one point,” and I was like, “Oh that’s really cool!” And she was just like, “I had no idea like how many times like, like the statistical like violence y’all, like, encounter,” and I’m just like, you coulda just said you liked the, the rez or something. I know the statistics! For I am a Native woman…!
Carly: But, but like, I think that, I’ve had interactions with, with white folk, that um–like I mentioned something about being Native, and I think that they try to show their sympathy by mentioning some terrible, horrific tragedy against Natives, like, cause, cause, like, the interaction I’m talking about was with a faculty member that said, that had mentioned um working um you know on the, like, doing some teaching for a semester like on the Navajo Nation, and, um she mentioned, she was talking about like boarding school, and and she was like, being really explicit about like what she was hearing about from this man that had like, been in boarding school, and I was like, I, I’m, like–like, I, I’m not connecting with you. You’re you’re explaining like, horrible things that colonizers have done to my people, and it’s like, I don’t, like, and I, I know that you’re making a sad face when you say it, but it’s like, like–I don’t (laughs) I don’t feel, like, I don’t know.
Carly: It’s not appropriate. It’s not appropriate for, for anybody, Indigenous or not, to see a non-Indigenous academic talk about these things and just rub, rub the salt in the wound, and just, be like, yes, you, this is education. That’s not… there, there’s gotta be another way.
Camille: Yeah (crosstalk) I remember in my Native American art history, we were handed this really nice poem about nature and resilience, and she was like, “You can take this home, to read,” and I was like, “We’re not gonna discuss this?” and she was like “Nope.” And then she slammed us with the Dakota 38 for like 45 minutes. And I was like, “…This is day one?! Bro…!”
Lexie: I remember when I took that class, (others laughing) and, I would like to say, too, there’s something so… like, kind of disheartening to have like, like, going to like, you know, like a Native American art history, I’m expecting, you know, like — like, at least like, contemporary art of like you know, of what we’re having right now, like, even Santiago X, like… and then, all these–Andrea Carlson and so many other different Natives that are contemporary, that I can look back and be like really excited for. But to be only given like, the history, while giving, you know, kind of, like–They’re kind of like, how do I say it. I’m trying to think of like the English word, I’m so sorry. They’re kinda like, little, little little details, they’re chopped up and they’re kinda like real nice and sprinkled. I’m not saying I want the full history of like, obviously how the museum got it. Cause we all know how. But I’m talking about, like, well, I would like to hear some nice things, because, like, why–the, the course is designed for non-Natives. That’s, like, my issue with it. The course is designed for non-Natives who either have never encountered an Indigenous person, two who has probably thought that we were one, extinct all this time, or that we did, that we don’t exist anymore, or you know, it’s just like, as a non-Native person who’s like never seen Native art, when it’s just like, our, our people, even today, are like, artists in their own different way. Like, we don’t have to go to art school to like, for that to be visible. We don’t have to like, obviously, be in an art museum for that to be visible. But, it’s just one of those things where, like, to go into an art history course that’s taught by a you know, I’m gonna be blunt, by a white woman, it’s just, it’s just kind of like, a little unfair. I had an Afrofuturism class… I’m gonna just say her name, cause she was amazing, um, Denenge [D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem]. I had an Afrofuturism art history class, this last semester, and she was so good, and I loved her, that I was jealous. I was so jealous, that, like, that there was so much empowerment, and so much, like, it was so much of like, excitement from just being in that class, because it’s so empowering to have that. When, like, I know, like, we don’t have that, as an Indigenous, like, like as a Indigenous community within like this institution. Because it’s just like what if we did have an Indigenous futurism class? One, taught by an Indigenous professor! That would be amazing to me! I’d go like, I’d go home happy!
Carly: Something about, like, um, cause I mean like they, sometimes it’s like bad stuff’s combatted with like a contemporary Native American art class, which I think is like, cool, I just also think it’s like, something needs to be done about the fact that it’s like, we exist in your classrooms. We exist in your classrooms, don’t talk about us like we’re not here. But also, like, it is not a burden to be Indigenous, or the burdens that come with indigeneity are due to colonialism. It’s not–we are not just a sad people for like, like our sadness is a product of horrible violence. By the hands of settlers.
Camille: And like, another thing. I don’t appreciate that we have to, like, go into detail about that violence? Just for people to feel any sort of empathy. Or any sort of understanding.
Leo: So, um, I know you mentioned that uh Carly that, like, some contemporary art hist uh Native American art classes would be good. I’m curious like what are some, who are some contemporary Native artists that you guys are, that you guys look up to?
Camille: Me. I’m just kidding. (laughter)
Carly: Myself… um…
Lexie: Camille, um…
Carly: Um. Camille. Yeah, Camille.
Camille: Um, I actually look up to–um… (thinking) His name’s Scott Hill. He’s actually an artist from my rez. He does really good acrylic paint work. Um, google it. It’s lit. And, he’s actually doing a stone sculpture for a hotel, and it’s of our, basically, woman who made people, sky woman, and she’s like pregnant, and she’s putting her arms in a circle, and her head is basically the moon. So, it’s amazing
Camille: I’m here for it. I’m so excited to see the final product. Yeah.
Carly: I like, uh, and I’ve met her, and she’s very cool, and she, she speaks like they do back home and it, it brings me so much warmth, is Rose B. Simpson. I love Rose B. Simpson. I love Cannupa Hanska, and I love Snotty Nose Rez Kids.
Lexie: Hell yeah (laughs)
Camille: Hell yeah.
Lexie: Um, I actually met Bunky Echo-Hawk years ago. I was like… I always tell this story. But, I met him when I was like 13, 14. And he came to my rez, cause sometimes we’ll do, like, arts and crafts festival, and this one was like, he was doing art demonstrations. He did it again this year, but I didn’t find him. I saw him from across the way, but he was already on an airboat. But I had met him when I was younger, and he had told me what art therapy was, and what that meant to him, and at the time, like, being 13, 14, I didn’t know what that meant, but, um, it definitely like solidified of like, how my path ended up going, and where I am right now.
(talking about podcasts, remove)
Camille: And an author to also note, like, book-wise, um, Nick Estes. He also has soundclouds with like talks, i can’t–it’s probably just his name, honestly, you can look up Nick Estes, and like, his Soundcloud will pop up. They’re basically like podcasts.
Camille: But um… he is a Native activist, and he has written, I want to say two books. Um. One is a compilation of people’s experiences, at Standing Rock, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and it’s like, songs, poems, notes, letters to people–all that, in a book. And then the other one is like him writing his experience and feelings and thoughts. And… theories. He’s a worthy author to keep in mind.
Carly: Yeah. And also note how we aren’t mentioning, when it comes to Native American writers, we’re not mentioning Sherman Alexie, becaaaaaause, he, he is not representative of Indigenous people in the regard that I, I, I’ve never liked his descriptions of women. And also, like, the accusations against him. We don’t condone that. That’s not, that’s not what NASA’s about, bro.
Camille: Yeah. He actually used to be one of um, he was actually like the first Native author that was introduced to me when I was little, so I was like excited to see, like, a Native author, like, “Oh! We’re doing things out here, huh!” And it was um “The Absolute[ly True] Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” I kinda felt that one, because I was just kinda like, yo, this is about some little Rez kid just going through it, and I was like yo, this is literally me, in a book, except this is a little boy. But, like, I still like felt for it, but then after I heard about that, it was kinda just like, “Ugh…” Why are you like this? Why do you gotta go and
Carly (crosstalk): It’s heartbreaking.
Camille: create something, and then ruin it. Yeah. So, like… It kinda… was heartbreaking. It was a lot.
Lexie: Yeah… I tried… my dad had given me, the first book I ever read from him was “Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven”
Camille: (laughs) I read that one too.
Lexie: Yeah, right? (laughs)
Carly: What a title, bro. (Camille laughs)
Lexie: It was a… I think I always liked all his really long titles at the time.
Lexie: I just, yeah. The first time I got that book, like, my dad had given it to me, during like um, like a flea market on the rez that we, like, one of the flea markets that we had, that he had given me that one? And after that I was like, “Whoa, I wanna be a writer too!” And I tried writing like short tiny stories, and was trying to collect every single book that he ever read–or, sorry, wrote — and then also want to meet him.
Lexi: I think I heard about the, I found out about the allegations, like, maybe my freshman year of college, it might have been? Yeah, I was in my research studio class. And we were doing this project called like, like “Write a letter to like your favorite artist, and write a letter to the artist you hate, and then like explain, like, like as if you’re gonna really write to them.” And I was like, well my favorite artist is Sherman Alexie. And then you had to like give like um, you basically had to do this thing where you had to research all of them. And I was just like, oh, okay, let me do the research, and then his name was obviously trending, and then… yeah. His name was trending for that reason. And then, like, I went back to class the next day, and he was just like, “So what do you got, Lexie?” And I was just like, (claps) “I have trauma. That’s what I have.” (laughs)
Camille: He is now my least favorite artist. I am now writing to him as my least favorite artist.
Lexie: He is–yeah, I, I wrote a letter, and I cried during like the project itself, it was just a very disheartening thing. But, the letter itself was very therapeutic, at least for me. But, yeah, now, if I ever catch him in the streets–I swear to God.
Camille: So yeah. Sherman’s out.
Lexie: Fuck that guy.
Lexie: I dunno if I can say “fuck” on the, like, an interview, but if I can, can you just like,–that’s the on–if you don’t put anything in it, just write, “Lexie says ‘fuck Sherman Alexie. Fuck that guy.'” (Leo laughs) Just that.