“South Bend, Indiana”—Studying for their final exams, University of Notre Dame students in the library on Friday morning looked up and saw a banner unfurled from the second-floor balcony. The banner proclaimed,
This is Potawatomi land! FUck the KKKolumbus murals!
The message comes as students have been organizing against murals displayed by the entrance of the university’s main administrative building. According to a pamphlet issued by Notre Dame, the nineteenth-century murals “create a heroic impression” of Christopher Columbus, despite the conqueror’s record of mass enslavement and murder. Moreover the paintings portray indigenous people in ways that Native American students say are stereotypical and insulting.
Students are collecting signatures for a petition titled “Dear Father Jenkins, The Murals Must Go.” Signed by more than 600 people, the petition argues, “The Native persons are depicted as stereotypes, their destruction is gilded over, and their slavery is celebrated. The murals commemorate and laud the beginning of the centuries-long systematic removal of Native American persons and culture from the United States.”
The following statement was offered by Julie Dye, a Pokagon Band Potawatomi Elder and descendant of Leopold Pokagon and Simon Pokagon:
These murals are symbols of oppression that do not represent local Native Americans—but yet Notre Dame calls the location ‘A Potawatomi Place.’ They contribute to the erasure of Native culture by feeding myths of history and perpetuating stereotypes.
The original intent does not negate the detrimental impact on the audience—especially the races depicted. Images matter. Teach the truth. Honor Native people by relocating the murals to a museum or gallery.
The group behind the banner drop, Rising Tide Michiana, takes direct action confronting the root causes of climate change. They said, “White supremacy must be dismantled as part of the fight to preserve life on Earth. We will take further actions in support of indigenous people’s demands to address these racist murals.” They may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.