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Native educators urged to take strong stance

It’s unfortunate when economic considerations outweigh moral ones. Of course, economic problems can have disastrous consequences and can even harm long-term efforts to fight moral battles.

This is where the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association finds itself today – pressured to move its annual conference, slated to be held later this month in Tucson, and join a national boycott of Arizona over the state’s recent passage of an immigration law that many feel paves the way for racial profiling.

Native people also are frustrated by an Arizona bill passed recently that would ban ethnic studies instruction in K-12 public and charter schools.

NAISA could strike at the heart of the state’s economic engine, a move far more likely to turn popular and political sentiment against the immigration law and ban on ethnic studies.

Robert Warrior, the Osage president of NAISA, voiced those concerns in an April 24 letter to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

“Your action as chief executive of the state of Arizona will, when the law takes effect, give license to abuse by police and citizens, making ever more murky the possibility of working towards a just future for all people in the Americas,” Warrior wrote.

A Facebook group created April 28 to show support for moving NAISA’s meeting onto tribal land already has more than 400 members. Visitors to NAISA’s Web site have echoed their support for moving the conference into a tribally operated hotel.

But, faced with a potential lawsuit by the Tucson hotel that NAISA chose as its meeting site and possible bankruptcy, the group has decided to go ahead with its annual meeting May 20 – 22.

NAISA plans to vote on a resolution at its conference condemning passage of the immigration law, S.B. 1070, and enlisting the group’s participation in the boycott of Arizona over the law.

“We should not retreat but rather we should forge ahead to educate those who are ignorant with our present-day weapons of education and leadership,” the group said on its Web site. “The current crisis makes it clear why it is important for NAISA to exist.”

While we applaud NAISA’s tough stance on the Arizona law, it’s unfortunate the group couldn’t find a way to flex its considerable economic muscle (the organization has nearly 600 members) when it has the greatest opportunity to do so.

It’s unlikely state legislators in Arizona will give much weight to NAISA’s concerns. Rather, by joining the 20 other groups that have canceled meetings and conferences in Arizona since the immigration law’s signing April 23, NAISA could strike at the heart of the state’s economic engine, a move far more likely to turn popular and political sentiment against the immigration law and ban on ethnic studies.

The group’s financial concerns are likely to keep it mired in its present meeting location. As a result, we call on NAISA to listen to several of its members, including renowned Acoma Pueblo poet Simon Ortiz, who have suggested the group transform its annual meeting into a protest of Arizona’s immigration law.

NAISA’s members would, of course, have to decide what form that protest would take (and some have). But the moral imperative to do so is apparent.

“Having a NAISA conference in Arizona at this time is wrong, wrong, wrong, unless the conference is clearly intended to be a publicly stated protest against the racist law,” Ortiz wrote in a blog on the NAISA Web site. “The NAISA conference surely can be changed and directed as such, so that it also carries out its originally planned scholarly goal as a Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.”

We support Ortiz’s call to action and hope those on the NAISA council will see fit to stand beside our fellow indigenous people of the Americas. By doing so, the group also would be standing up for the rights of Native Americans to be free of racial profiling in our own homelands.