A Full House for Lasell University’s First Indigenous People’s Day Celebration

By Olivia Fernandes – 1851 Staff


At the Arnow Campus Center, a full house of students attended Lasell’s first Indigenous People’s Day Celebration hosted by junior Duffy Martin in collaboration with Lasell’s Donahue Institute. The speakers of the event were one of the remaining Lobster Women Marilynn-Leigh Francis and mother Marilynn Francis, who taught Marilynn-Leigh the way of the Lobster People.

The topics ranged from misinformation, treatment of the L’nu people, their creation story and others. The speakers were highly respected and silence filled the room as they spoke, save for clapping and snapping. Outside the room, a table with food and drink provided Native American food, fry bread and toppings such as sugar and a bean mix, and water to the side.

To begin the panel, Marilynn explained the Native American tradition of smudging. The process of burning sage and directing the smoke with an eagle feather is sacred to Native American culture. The eagle feather is said to send prayers and requests with the smoke as it wafts to the heavens, and those who smudge often bring the smoke and its energy to their eyes, mouth, ears, brain, and heart. The audience was encouraged to take part, and nearly everyone waited in line. Francis said this process was to “pray for good health, to speak good things, to see good things, to hear good things… you’re asking the Creator maybe for help.”

For their first component, Marilynn-Leigh explained the misinformation that is often ascribed to Native Americans as explanation for their oppression: that they live for free. However, this is not true. Marilynn-Leigh went over the different aspects of Native American life that are made difficult: education, health, and housing that they either do not qualify for or are denied regularly.

Then, Marilynn-Leigh explained who the L’nu tribe are and where they come from, with the story of creation that begins with the seven directions: east, south, west, north, sky, Earth, and “ourself.” Creation of the L’nu people began with Gisoolg, whose name means “you have been created.” This figure in other cultures may be referred to as “God.”

Gisoolg created the Earth, Ootsitgamoo, first, and then the birds and animals of the planet. Lightning struck down by Gisoolg’s hand and the first man, Glooscap, was created, but rooted in place. He wanted to move freely, and was given the ability, and thanked the four directions, which his body created: his feet the west, his right hand the north, his left hand the south, and his head the east. Then, Gisoolg created Nogami, Glooscap’s grandmother, from a rock with dew. Glooscap’s mother was a leaf who fell from the ground.

Following this foundation of their people, Marilynn-Leigh explained the issues that influence the tribe today. First, Marilynn-Leigh mentioned treaty and inherent rights, which are passed on in Native American culture by bloodline from the Creator. Marilynn-Leigh said these rights and its treaty “allows me to live and sustain my way of life without hindrance,” and that such treaties were created to protect that inherent right. “This is who I am, and without this I am nothing,” said Marilynn-Leigh. The first treaty of this kind was the 1725-1779 Britain case, in which the signed treaty was meant to prevent war and facilitate trade.

However, these treaties are overlooked in daily Native American life. “When people say we’re all human,” Marilynn-Leigh said, “they’re still looking at me like I’m less than.” There are “repercussions” to being who they were, as Marilynn-Leigh’s PowerPoint slides showed. Among other treatment, her life was threatened, her belongings stolen or destroyed, one case of being arrested for going 93 mph in a 90 zone, as well as pictures of herself on social media.

In addition to repercussions, Marilynn-Leigh spoke about their rights and lands, which treaty says to protect their Mother Earth and, unlike common belief, everyone on it, including non-Native people. Others “mistake our want for freedom as a means to remove anyone who is native out of our territories,” Marilynn-Leigh said. Finally, her last slide was titled “We are EQUAL.” “This is a lie!” Marilynn-Leigh said. She recalled mass genocide, residential schools, where children were “kidnapped, tortured, raped, abused, starved and killed.” On reservations, “we were forced out of our lands and into encampments.”

Each of these facets add to modern beliefs of Native Americans and can be harmful to how we progress with Indigenous People’s treatment and can form barriers to proper recognition of tribes, and reimbursement for the harm we have inflicted upon countless tribes and peoples.

Martin said it allowed students to “learn about the ways in which colonization has affected and continues to impact Native communities… It meant a lot to me, and hopefully the whole campus, to see students get smudged and cleansed of their preconceptions.”

They wanted the event to “transform student’s understanding” and “can’t wait to see how the campus builds upon this celebration annually.” Another attendee, Ruth Kehinde, said the reason she went was to “hear the other side of the story about… Columbus Day/[sic] Indigenous People’s Day” and that “everyone is just revolved around one story when really there’s multiple stories… so it’s good to learn about the history.”

To close the ceremony and bestow upon the audience one last comment, Marilynn offered her advice: “It’s your actions… we have to start looking at our first nations… it has to do with love… understanding each other… to stop the violence,” she said.

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