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Weissberg Program: Environmental Justice and Indigenous Rights

The Weissburg Program began in 1999, inviting acclaimed individuals to campus to increase the campus’ engagement of human rights and social justice conversations. Now funded by the Weissburg Foundation, this year’s theme will cover environmental justice and indigenous rights and will begin Monday, March 16 and end Saturday, March 21.

Joan Carling is this year’s Weissberg Chair. According to the Weissburg Program’s website, Carling is an “indigenous Filipino human rights activist and environmentalist. She has served as the Secretary-General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact and has chaired the Cordillera People’s Alliance in the Philippines.” Additionally, her work has granted her the accomplishment of the Champions of the Earth Award for lifetime achievement. 

Her work focuses on advocating for the land rights of indigenous peoples, maintaining the sustainable development of natural resources, and protecting the rights of marginalized individuals. Carling will be giving her keynote address in the Weissberg Auditorium in the Powerhouse on Friday, March 20 at 7:00 PM. She will also be attending a handful of classes throughout the week. 

Monday’s “Art as Activism” film festival, arranged by Campus Mounds Sustainability and Advocacy Initiative, will commence the Weissberg Program in the Weissberg Auditorium at 7 pm with six films from Indonesia. The indigenous Dayak activist-media group from Palangkaraya, Kalimantan, Indonesia known as Ranu Welum created three of the films that will be shown. These films cover the importance of youth activism in the areas of air pollution and environmental destruction. The other three films that will be screened are created by indigenous independent filmmakers are were featured at the Kalimantan Indigenous Film Festival in Indonesia in August 2019. 

A film called “A is for Agustin”, created by UW-Madison graduate Grace Simbulan, will be screened Thursday, March 19 at 7:30 pm and hosted by Professor of Anthropology Jennifer Esperanza. The film takes place in the rural Philippines and follows the story of a 40-year-old farmer, Agustin, who decides to attend school for the first time. As an indigenous individual, Agustin begins to understand the dichotomy between the inequities of an adult world in comparison to schoolchildren’s innocent lives. While his family struggles to maintain food and money, Agustin contemplates sacrificing his education to help keep his family afloat. The film invites its audience to understand the lives of indigenous people and ultimately how they struggle with ephemeral waves of optimism that are consumed by the truths of the reality they live in. The film will be open to the public.

Saturday, March 21 will be a busy day for the campus. In addition to the Admitted Students Open House, the Weissberg Program will host workshops provided by the Logan Museum as well as Asian Monologues later in the evening. Nicolette Meister, Director of the Logan Museum of Anthropology, will present the workshops of the day. The first workshop, called “Unpacking the Logan Museum’s Philippines Collections,” will allow students to engage and discuss objects relating to cultural survival and indigenous land rights. Carling, Meister, and Neal Matherne from the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College will facilitate conversations.

Michael J. Isham Jr., the Executive Administrator of the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission and who previously served as Chairman of the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian Tribe, will facilitate the second workshop, titled “Indigenous land rights in Wisconsin.” In an email sent to the Round Table, Meister views her workshops as “an opportunity for students to ask questions about their work as environmental activists.” Additionally, Joshua Moore, the Director Center for Immersive and Experiential Learning Opportunities and Co-Director of the Weissberg Program in Human Rights and Social Justice said,  in a meeting with the Round Table, that he hopes the workshops will provide “local context about global issues of environmental justice and bring it home to ground where students can see it at their front door.” The Logan Museum workshops will be held in the Powerhouse on Saturday from 1 to 3 pm.

Asian Monologues will wrap up the Weissberg Program in The Stack of the Powerhouse on Saturday at 3:30 pm. Hosted by Vishal Tomby. The theme of the show is “What Does Asia Mean to Me?” Tomby expressed the Asian Monologues series’s focus on the misconceptions of Asianness and its assigned values, and on reclaiming the term Asianness. Each of the show’s acts, which encompass a variety of media including dance, spoken word, and music, will address the performer’s unique struggle and experience identifying as Asian. 

The Weissberg Program provides Beloit’s campus with a variety of opportunities to engage in social discourse. This year, it will be addressing subjects relating to environmental justice and indigenous rights. 

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