November 10, 2022
The Graduate Teaching Assistants Coalition (GTAC AFT-Local 6403) is in solidarity with all Indigenous students, employees, and communities who are affected by the University of Kansas holding Indigenous human remains and funerary items. It is the responsibility of the university as an institution of knowledge, a public entity, and a community of teachers and learners to not only comply with federal laws, such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), but to seek reciprocity and healing for the harm caused by these neglectful practices and histories. Reciprocity can only begin with commitments to dialogue, to listen and learn from those affected by these actions, and to implement concrete community-driven responses. For students, instructors, researchers, and administrators, this conversation ultimately requires reflecting on the structures that enabled this negligence, which come from a long academic history we have yet to confront.
In light of the passage of Senate Resolution 2023-302, which marks an initial step in the process of reciprocity, the union supports the key demands for action by and in the University of Kansas. This especially includes the funding of graduate employee and faculty positions in the Indigenous Studies Program (ISP), which is an intellectual space historically underfunded and denied resources equivalent to other areas of study granted “departmentalization.” These asymmetries in institutional support reflect the environment and structure of anti-Indigenous research and teaching that extend across campus and into the local community.
As graduate instructors who hold the role of present and future leaders in academia, we must change these patterns of racism that animate the university’s current habits. We encourage instructors in every field to use their research and teaching to challenge the legacies of colonial knowledge and to center Indigeneity as a category of analysis. In order to ensure accountability for the disregard of Indigenous cultures and practices, we must adjust our syllabi, curricula, and pedagogy in response. While this conversation must continue for the long term, there are concrete steps to immediately take to repatriate Indigenous ancestral remains and funerary items, to prevent these harmful research methods from continuing, and to support Indigenous students and workers at the university.
The GTAC Executive Board