'They Were Always There': The Power Of Including Indigenous Perspectives

Historians in the News
tags: Native American history

Kiara Vigil was in elementary school when her father gave her a book about the Sioux Nation. It had a burnt orange cover, and was long and rectangular.

"My dad gave it to me and was kind of like, 'Hey, you know, we're Dakota. You should learn about this,' without him giving me any more to go on," she recalled.

Vigil's family tree is diverse. In addition to ancestors from the Dakota Tribe, she also has relatives from the Apache Tribe, as well as Chicano and Irish heritage.

While she grew up in Boston knowing about her indigenous lineage, she didn't have a lot more detail. At the time, the only things she really knew about indigenous people came from what she learned in school, which only touched on the Thanksgiving story with the Wampanoag Tribe and the Trail of Tears, and nothing more.

Reading her new book, Vigil realized that she was hungry for more information.

"I remember sitting up in my bed at night and reading it," said Vigil. "It was very clear that there was a kind of missing piece in a bigger puzzle."

If she wanted to learn more about her family's past and their tribes' roles in United States history, Vigil understood she'd have to seek it out herself.

As the years went on, so did her supplementary reading. She spent many afternoons buried in archives. Some of the stories she came across were difficult to read.

"I'm not ashamed to say I have cried in the archives," she said. "Because these people, who were once living, experienced a lot of adversity and a lot of oppression."

Vigil eventually turned that interest into a profession. Now, she's an author and an American studies professor at Amherst College. Learning and teaching about the past helps her understand the present. Vigil feels empowered in knowing what forces and circumstances shaped a community into what it is today. And she enjoys seeing the impact of that knowledge develop in her students.

"I'm honored to be able to share these stories and add them back in to a history," she said. "They were always there, even if we didn't realize it."

Read entire article at WBUR

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