Eckerd’s new student grassroots organization, the Coalition of Students for Indigenous Action (COSIA), has big plans for Eckerd’s campus and beyond.
“It’s not a club, but more of a social justice group, a group of students dedicated to action,” Ansley Jacobs, one of the founding members and senior majoring in marine science said.
“The spark? The things that started us to question it all was we were in Imagining Justice, what we really wanted to focus on what wasn’t there: indigenous representation,” Cameron Dasher, another founding member and senior majoring in anthropology, biology and environmental studies, said. “Our fear was that people are not thinking about this as often as it should be. We need to raise the consciousness on our campus about what is going. We really want to see change. We never sought this out, it started because we felt it was an ethical injustice. If nobody is gong to do it, then we will do it.”
What started originally as a way to get a land statement adopted officially by the school recognizing the indigenous history of the land has now turned into something bigger. While the land statement has not been adopted by the school yet, COSIA has been making progress. So far, there are no blocks by administration, the process simply just takes a long time.
“A land statement is kind of like a formal statement that recognizes indigenous people as the traditional owners of the land and the continuous relationship between the indigenous people and the land,” Jacobs said.
The statement, which was written by Amanda Hagood, animal studies instructor, Anna Guengerich, assistant professor of anthropology, and Carolyn Johnston, professor of American studies and history and Elie Wiesel professor of humane letters, is under review by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the original owners of the land atAh-Tah-Thi-Ki, a museum run by the Seminoles, located in Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades.
“Land statement has to be paired with action,” Jacobs said. “At the end of the day it’s just words, but you need action on campus.”
COSIA is working on various projects around campus. They are continuously adding to and working on the Eckerd Herbarium where collected plants are pressed and preserved with traditional ecological notes. There are plans to digitize the plant library. Eckerd is the first college to create a herbarium with both western and indigenous knowledge.
Furthermore, COSIA’s main focus this semester is rethatching the chickees (the open shelters located at Fox Pond) on campus, which is two years overdue. In addition, the organization is working to create clear signs to explain what the chickees are and add information about them in campus tours. Their goal is to give students educational outreach and cross-cultural opportunities.
Currently, there is no college in the Tampa Bay region with a land statement. Eckerd college could be the first.
“By having this statement in place we are committing the college to continue indigenous action and continue cultural awareness. If Eckerd starts to fall short, anyone can call them out,” Dasher said.
Jacobs said the group is laying the foundation for professors and also getting information to students.
“We are committed to preserving indigenous knowledge and projecting that knowledge to people who have never been exposed to non-Western scientific knowledge,” Jacobs said. “Western knowledge is important and great, and gives you skills you need as a scientist but what we are not exposed to is other types of knowledge, which is just as important. Lots of them are disappearing and unknown.”
As for the future of COSIA, Eckerd students are dreaming of a world where indigenous people are recognized and respected no matter what state they come from.
“Our vision for the future is not just within Eckerd, we want it to be part of a larger community. We just have to start somewhere,” Dasher said.
Furthermore, COSIA would like to see indigenous perspectives in the curriculum.
COSIA is continuously working to give indigenous people the recognition they deserve. To get involved with the organization check out their flyers posted around campus.
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