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Indigenous activist Ghosthorse is second speaker to call for Beloit to pay respect to mounds

On Friday, Sept. 21, Beloit College hosted indigenous activist and speaker Tiokasin Ghosthorse in Wilson Theater at 7:30 p.m. Ghosthorse was the second speaker in two weeks to come to Beloit and call for more respect be paid to the twenty effigy mounds around campus and in front of Middle College.

Ghosthorse, a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation of South Dakota, was introduced by Bill New of the Education & Youth Studies Department to a crowd of around 100 individuals. Ghosthorse also sang and performed traditional flute music in between speaking about the importance of listening to the earth in modern times, Native American stereotypes and climate change.

Ghosthorse began at 7:40 p.m. and spoke for an hour. Around half of the seats in the theater were empty, which Ghosthorse acknowledged by saying, “This theater should be full– which it is. All these empty seats are the ancestors. We left room for them.” He thanked the crowd for being willing to come “see things in a different perspective” and for understanding that “America is not the world.” He stated his goal for coming to Beloit College was to tell the students that “Mother Earth is going to outsmart us– outsmart us at all turns. She is more intelligent than we can ever hope to be.” He acknowledged the many unjust stereotypes perpetrated against Native People by saying “you have to know you are us, and we are you.”

For the Lakota people of South Dakota, listening to the land and being in connection with the earth is vital. “We understand that that the highest form of intelligence is how to live with Mother Earth,” Ghosthorse explained. “It made us people who knew the land…who knew the movement of the stars, who asked the earth all the time… because when you are asking, something is giving.” Ghosthorse explained that all people should learn to ask the earth before taking from it, saying, “it tastes better when you ask. You can feel that, you can feel that energy.”

Ghosthorse explained that technology, such as iPhones, computers and the Internet itself, “is getting in our way, and we are neglecting Mother Earth.” Ghosthorse addressed climate change by saying that “Mother Earth is sick” and that “the human beings have become magicians, saying we are using Earth’s resources correctly when we are not…we fool ourselves to thinking we are using magic, but all of that has been gotten from Earth. I say you can get out of this way of thinking– you can, and you will, because you will have no choice.”

At a pivotal moment in his presentation Ghosthorse addressed the mounds, revealing that earlier in the day he and a large group of staff had performed a ceremony in front of the mounds in order to talk to and listen to the earth. “Today I saw why I came here,” Ghosthorse said. “I saw the turtle mound.” Last week, Ousley Keynote speaker Tabias Olajuawon Wilson also acknowledged the effigy mounds by stating that the college should have put up barriers and plaques around the mounds. “There is more work to be done with the mounds,” Ghosthorse said. “More recognition, more acknowledgment…it has great cosmetological connotations…why is this campus built upon this magic?…You must not avoid the mounds, you must pay attention to them when you are walking.” He explained that, “I will not say the right things [tonight] to get invited back. I must say the truth– it’s easier in America to lie to the children than to tell the truth.”

Ghosthorse also explained that he does not have a “manual” for learning to listen to the earth or the mounds. Instead, he explained that “each of us are tuned to be able to listen” and that “we are wired to listen, but we are only listening to ourselves.” An example of this, he said, was “sucking up to other humans.” To counteract this cultural trend, Ghosthorse advised students to “sit with Earth.”

The term environmentalism does not exist in Lakota, Ghosthorse explained. “There is no word for nature,” he said. “Maybe people need to understand that we don’t have a word for environment because that is what we are, so why use it? We don’t have a word for free, because that is what we are. So why use it?” He explained further the culture and language of the Lakota Nation by saying, “The world I grew up in is not of privilege, it was of struggle. It was of culture.”

Ghosthorse concluded his lecture and performance by making an appeal to students during this time of political and environmental divide. “Make sure this land, this country as it is, becomes a listening nation, instead of talking all the time. We have forgotten how to listen to the elders. We didn’t put them in homes. They were vital, because they contained all the wisdom of Mother Earth, and Mother Earth was here first, and that is why we listen to her. Learn how to respect, merely listen, lean in, and she will get us through difficult times. The struggles [you go through] are medicine, and they will make you stronger and full of life. Help make this nation a listening nation.”

After a large round of applause, Ghosthorse took questions from the audience, most of which were follow-ups on advocating for the environment.

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