Recently I got to attend a presentation given by sociology and economics professor Dr. David Everson as a part of the school’s Sociology department. He was born in South Dakota and graduated with a PHD in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. He did an extensive research project on the Privilege Narratives of Settler Colonialism: Racism and Indigenous Peoples, which he started back in graduate school and formed the basis for the presentation.
As I sat down at the event I noticed that the atmosphere was quiet and respectful. The presentation had not yet started, but all of the students, other professors, and USM staff were eager for it to begin. Dr. Wendy Chapkis, the head of the Sociology department, introduced Dr. Everson after which he presented his research.
He had spent a good majority of his career on the intersections of social inequality and social movements, with a focus on American Indian rights and Indigienous activism. Dr. Everson is a research fellow with the Center for American Indian Rights and Native Studies (CAIRNS) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. His presentation was titled Privilege Narratives of Settler Colonialism: Racism and Indigenous Peoples. Dr. Everson’s research was published in the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, by the American Sociological Association.
Dr. Everson started the presentation with his personal background and connected it to the background of South Dakota. He explained how the settlers came in and ruined the land of the Indigenous peoples and they produced racial conflict by driving out the Indigenous tribes. There are still teepees commemorating land that belonged to the tribes standing in the fields of South Dakota, easily seen on the highway.
The Homestead Act in 1862 provided 160 acres of land to settlers for improvement in the farming and agricultural business. He also notes the fact that his own family benefited from this act showing the deed from nearly two hundred years ago.
“My uncle still farms this land today,” says Everson. Dr. Everson then proceeded to show the audience another deed from his father’s side. It was from the Dawes Act in 1887, a deed for land from the Sioux Tribe. Everson acknowledged the privilege that his family had during such a hard time for many others, especially the Indigenous tribes. “That shapes who I am, how I act, how I got here in today’s society,” says Everson.
The professor then dove into the theoretical framework of his research. He found that sociological literature does not account for Indigenous peoples among the race and ethnicity research that has been done in the past. He informed the audience of color blind racism, the idea that racism has gone covert, but it is still very evident in the form of racial inequalities and poverty.
He talked about how settler colonialism has always had the idea to exploit and opportunity hoard. Some people still do this today, take over lands that belong to the Indigenous tribes. The saying “land is life,” remains prevalent. Settlers hoarded indigenous resources and also exploited non-indigenous bodies, showing that they exploited more than one race and ethnicity.
“Racialized discourse remains amenable to a historic and spatially unfixed storyline,” Everson says, noting that nothing has changed over the years and people still continue to exploit others in a racially driven way.
Dr. Everson went into discussing how he studied the American Indian Movement, started in 1968 with a focus on the Wounded Knee Occupation in 1973 by the Oglala Lakota and the followers of AIM where they occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Everson explained that he analyzed non-indigenous narratives surrounding the AIM riots. All of the narratives that he found were from AIM constituent mail, juror transcripts, or were public opinion surveys. The professor tracked 47 out of 400 people down, and conducted interviews with them. He compared their opinions from then and now.
Dr. Everson found two things during his interviews. He found that there was a tribal warfare narrative and a reservation wasteland narrative. The people that went with the tribal warfare narrative believed that the Lakota Tribe got the land of Wounded Knee the same way that the settlers did– taking it from another tribe. They think that the Indigenous tribe does not have a claim on the land more than anyone else.
“Respondents are pushing back the horizon in order to invalidate legally binding treaties,” says Everson. He noticed that a lot of the people interviewed were using the word “pushed,” implying that they don’t live in, they live on the land and can be pushed off at any given time.
The people that sided with the reservation wasteland narrative believed that the land looked worthless and the Indigenous people that lived on it were not productive. Many of them voiced that, “the people could not make a living or raise a decent crop.” Their proposed solution was to get Indigenous members off of the reservation.
Everson concluded that the people he interviewed wanted to unsettle the Indigenous land and were defending the “historical foundations,” of non-indigenous property. He proceeded to explain how kicking the tribes off of their reservation would not be beneficial and it would just be repeating history.
“The research I presented on gives attention to the often deep-seated racism that Indigenous peoples still confront in our society. While scholars and the media have given extensive coverage to the topic as it relates to other racialized groups, we still know relatively little about how racism operates in relation to tribal communities. My work attempts to address this gap by focusing on the specific narratives that the dominant culture constructs to oppose the sovereign rights of Native peoples in the United States,” says Everson when asked about what his research means to him and how it can help for the greater good. Dr. Everson has done great research and will only continue to conduct new research that he is passionate about.