A Native American student at Cal State Sacramento University was told by her history teacher that there was no genocide against the indigenous population of North America. When the student, Chiitaanibah Johnson, took issue with this claim and challenged him, she was ejected from the class and expelled.
The professor said he didn’t care for the term “genocide” as he didn’t think it accurately describes what happened in relation to Native American history.
This is what we know has happened thanks to Vincent Schilling, writing for Indian Country Today Media Network.
“The whole thing started on Wednesday,” Johnson said in an interview with ICTMN. “He was talking about Native America and he said the word genocide. He paused and said ‘I don’t like to use that word because I think it is too strong for what happened’ and ‘Genocide implies that it was on purpose and most native people were wiped out by European diseases.”
At first, even though she was outraged at the professor’s comments, she decided against responding… So she wrote what he said down.
“I wrote it down. I was enraged for what I felt were obvious reasons. I didn’t say anything [on Wednesday] because I knew that if I didn’t have anything specific to back it up in terms of tangible or solid evidence that he would not take my comments into consideration.”
But on Friday, after the teacher’s discussion on the Iroquois Confederacy and the Portuguese expeditions, she confronted him – she had no other choice.
“He made it a point to say indigenous people were not peaceful. I was upset for obvious reasons,” she said. “He’d mentioned how the French and the Dutch were allies and made it a point to say native people were killing each other before white settlers arrived.”
Schilling notes that “Johnson says that she understands that there were native conflicts before settlers arrived, but when the professor talked about the bravery of Portuguese expeditions without emphasis on the slave trade she again grew upset.”
Johnson adds that “on Friday, I raised my hand and I said, ‘I understand why we’re talking about the Portuguese people because it explains how they got to America. but I do not think it is fair to talk about Portuguese people as if they were only poor and brave. They became rich by raping and enslaving the indigenous lands and people that they ‘discovered’.”
Johnson asked why the professor never spoke of any Iroquoian technological advances or their spirituality. Then she broke into the issue of “genocide” and his disdain for the term in the context of Native Americans.
She said the professor rolled his eyes back in his head several times.
“I told him, ‘you said genocide implies the purposeful extermination of people and that they were mostly wiped out by European diseases. That is not a true statement,” she challenged.
He responded, “Genocide is not what happened.”
So she stood up and began reading from an article by the United Nations that defined the term as “the deliberate killing of another people, a sterilization of people and/or a kidnapping of their children.”
Humiliated in front of the class, the professor stopped her and he said,“that is enough.”
She didn’t back down, saying that as a history professor, “you have to tell the truth.”
He said, “you know what class? I am so sorry to everybody that this is happening. Please everyone come back on Monday have a good weekend,” Johnson recalled. That’s when he expelled her from the class permanently.
He said, “I do not appreciate this in my classroom.” He began shaking his finger at me and said, “I don’t appreciate you making me sound like a racist and a bigot in my classroom. You have hijacked my lesson, taken everything out of context and I don’t care what kind of scholarship you have, or what kind of affiliation you have with the University, you will be disenrolled and expelled from this classroom.”
“Within 10 minutes of me asking these questions and trying to read pieces from the article – he shut me down. He wasn’t listening. He excused everyone out of the room and told me I was expelled from the class,” Johnson explains.
“I had zero support from anybody in the classroom,” Johnson added. “All of the research I had done was very traumatizing – to read about babies being slammed into rocks being held from their ankles, to hear of people being lit on fire while they were still alive, to hear of them being disemboweled, and having their arms and hands chopped off .”
“I know these things are true. I have been told about them personally from my great grand parents and grandparents and my mother who was in boarding school.”
“To be kicked out of the classroom so quickly, I was floored and I thought are you kidding me? This was the third day of class, and already you’re going to completely expel me? I didn’t call him names, I did not say he was racist I did not use foul language – yes I raised my voice because he raised his voice at me and was talking over me and wouldn’t let me say anything. I felt like I had my feet completely kicked out from under me. I felt like I approached the situation in a way that a student of the University level is supposed to approach a disagreement with the professor. I have been dealing with this kind of racism since I was a little girl,” Johnson added.
So far, the University of Sacramento has refused to comment on this incident. The Provost of the University has said they will be investigating this matter. If you believe universities should not censor students who challenge teachers when they spread lies about history, contact the provost at (916) 278-6331 and let them know!
UPDATE: The University has contacted us in response, saying that the professor did not have the authority to expel Chiitaanibah Johnson, and “under University policy, a professor cannot unilaterally disenroll a student from a class.”
They have further pledged that “President Robert S. Nelsen is looking into what was alleged to have happened.” Nelson tells us, “I take this matter very seriously. I intend to talk to Chiitaanibah Johnson as we work to gather all the information necessary to resolve this situation positively.”