BEMIDJI -- Indigenous Studies Professor and White Earth member Dr. Shaawano “Chad” Uran delivered a rather unique lecture at the American Indian Resource Center on Thursday evening drawing parallels between zombie films and colonialism.

The lecture, entitled “How Columbus Discovers America: An Indigenous Interpretation of the Zombieland Frontier,” was held in conjunction with other events for Native American Heritage Month.

Using the 2009 movie “Zombieland,” Uran detailed several similarities between the film’s events and the displacement and mass genocide of Native Americans following European immigration to the original Easter Island.

“The recognition of a crime as being murder demands that the victim be deemed human, and there’s absolutely no way you’re allowed to count a zombie as human,” Uran said during the lecture. “Much in the same way, for a long time, it was in some places against the law to count Indigenous peoples as human beings.”

Uran walked through the movie’s plot, comparing the plot points, settings, story arch and character’s names -- Columbus, Wichita, Tallahassee and Little Rock -- to the past events and current understandings of Indigenous experiences.

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“There’s a story of replacement going on here. The Indian names show how -- the claiming of a connection to the land, the claiming of a new identity, the merging of a new American personality from this frontier violence -- has taken on the aesthetics of Indigeneity,” Uran said.

He continued, “Zombies do not count as humans in these films and the ease for which we can dehumanize an entire population and then justify their eradication is the very logic of genocide.”

Following the lecture, a question and answer session allowed attendees both in-person and through Zoom to ask questions, where Uran touched on how he became involved in this line of research.

“Well, I loved zombie movies and at some point, I just became a habitual overthinker,” Uran mentioned with a laugh. “Another part was trying to figure out my own experience in the world. ‘Why is this always so hard? Why are people like this?’ It’s because these are the stories we tell over and over again and hear over and over again.”

He continued by expanding on a point he made during the lecture of how zombies are seen as “the ultimate other” in films, or someone for which everything that’s wrong with humanity can be projected on.

“People who are othered in those stories face the consequences of those stories over and over again,” he added.

Uran answered other questions relating to his thoughts on diversity, equity and inclusion if colonialism can be deconstructed and his teaching experiences.

With regard to being an Indigenous Studies professor, he emphasized that, “I’m in Indigenous Studies and when I say that, people say, ‘well, you teach about Indians.’ And I don’t. I teach about colonialism. That’s one of the reasons I try to do this kind of work.”

The full Zoom lecture can be viewed on the BSU website.

A month's celebration

The AIRC has kept busy this month offering other events in honor of November, which is Native American Heritage Month. Meanwhile, Native American Heritage Day is Friday, Nov. 26, this year.

On Nov. 4, the AIRC partnered with the Center for Sustainability Studies and Sustainability Office to offer three local Indigenous tea-making workshops as part of a traditional skills workshop series.

Indigenous Sustainability Professor Awanookwe Kingbird-Bratvold led attendees through the process of identifying, preparing and brewing tea from local plants.

Last year marked 30 years of the official federal recognition of Native American Heritage Month.

President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution in 1990 designating November of that year "National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994 under varying names.

Several states also designate Columbus Day as Native American Day, though this doesn't currently have federal recognition as a national legal holiday.

The first efforts to adopt a day recognizing Indigenous peoples arose when Seneca Nation member Dr. Arthur C. Parker persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the "First Americans," which was honored the following three years according to the Native American Heritage Month government site.

The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by a New York governor with several other states declaring their own different days through the 1910s.

More information can be found at nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov.