New Film: The Forgotten Slavery of Our Ancestors

Special Episode

Alice Qannik Glenn is the host of Coffee and Quaq and assistant producer of The Forgotten Slavery of our Ancestors. This short, classroom-ready film offers an introduction to the history of Indigenous enslavement on land that is currently the United States. This new resource from Teaching Tolerance features an extensive group of experts, many of whom will be familiar to listeners from Season 2.

 

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Transcript

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I’m Hasan Kwame Jeffries, and this is Teaching Hard History. We’re a production of Teaching Tolerance—a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This is a special, short episode about Teaching Tolerance’s new film, The Forgotten Slavery of Our Ancestors. It was created by a unique team of filmmakers based in Alaska, and I’m happy to have the assistant producer, Alice Glenn here with me to talk about this amazing film which you can watch at tolerance.org/forgottenslavery.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Alice, how are you doing? It's great to be in conversation with you.

Alice Green: Hello, good afternoon. So nice to meet you. Uvaŋa Qannik. My name is Alice Qannik Glenn. Qannik is my Iñupiaq name. The tribe that I am from, the north slope of Alaska, Iñupiaq.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: You know, the film opens with Paula Peters, who talks about learning the history of native peoples as a young girl from white teachers.

Paula Peters: I can remember very vividly going into, I believe it was my second-grade classroom. We were being taught about Thanksgiving and the story of the friendly Indian. And at that time, back in the 1960s, they didn't mention the Wampanoag tribe by name. They didn't mention Squanto by name. The teacher was talking more in generalities about these wonderful Indians who came and they taught how to plant corn, and then at the end of the season they harvested all this wonderful food which helped them to survive and they had a great feast. Then she offered up the information about what had happened to these Indian people. She says, "Yep. They're all dead." And I remember waving my hand wildly like a little kid will do. And I said, "No! They're not all dead. I'm here. I'm a Wampanoag and I'm still here."

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Paula Peters is talking about the Wampanoag being "disappeared," if you will. Erased from the history books. But that isn't an educational experience that is just unique to her, is it?

Alice Green: You know, we're home-schooling our six year old here this year, and just last week we're going over his work and there's a page there on Thanksgiving, and it's basically that same story. It's just like, "Wow! It's 2020, come on!" We're still telling this tired story that's just not true.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: The central core of the film is the history of native peoples that is too often overlooked, and that is the history of Indigenous enslavement. You interviewed a friend and colleague of mine here at Ohio State, Dr. Margaret Newell.

Margaret Newell: Indigenous people were enslaved here first. They were enslaved here in large numbers in various localities under different imperial powers.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: You interviewed UC-Davis professor Andrés Reséndez, who talks about the new estimates of Indigenous enslavement.

Andrés Reséndez: It's impossible, really, to count them accurately. However, we've been involved in trying to make an initial estimate at least to have a baseline. It's 2.5 to 5 million since the time of Columbus to 1900.

Alice Green: One person that we interviewed for our film was Dr. Sven Haakanson, who is Sugpiat from Kodiak here in Alaska.

Sven Haakanson: As I was reading this, like, 500-page book of Russian history, and there's a couple of references of what they would do.

Alice Green: We interviewed him about the slavery of the Sugpiat and the Russian colonization and the American colonization of Kodiak.

Sven Haakanson: On Kodiak alone, there's 90 percent of the people died. They were using the people as slaves to hunt sea otters. And if the people didn't listen, they killed the children and mother. And of course, everybody's going to line up. Nobody wants to lose their family.

Alice Green: I had no idea that that happened to people who look like me, who are from this state like me. It was kind of a reckoning.

Sven Haakanson: I started to piece together and then you hear about them taking hostages in every group they ran into. When I read this stuff I get angry. It ate me up. Why am I angry? I can't change the past. I started to think about how do we educate our communities so that we are not repeating ourselves?

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: So one of the things that Dr. Newell points out in the film is that in New England, for nearly a century, it wasn't African people who were the enslaved labor force. That's not who Europeans were enslaving. It was actually Indigenous folk. It was the folk who were here, whose land that they were on. And we almost never talk about that.

Margaret Newell: So for nearly a century, Indians were the main source of enslaved labor. They were the enslaved population.

Andrés Reséndez: Europeans, all Europeans, French, Spanish, English did it. Dutch did it. The Americans did it. The Mexicans did it. Various native groups did it to each other.

Alice Green: You know, that's such a huge proponent of this film is to teach this story, teach these histories. And we were kind of, you know, a little bit ashamed about what we learned in school, because it is that same story, that same tired old whitewashed story.

Andrés Reséndez: Indian slavery really was quite active and thriving in the American West throughout the 19th century.

Alice Green: It's not a one-off thing. It didn't just happen in Alaska. It didn't just happen in the Northeast. It happened everywhere. And it was systemic, you know? That was what our country was founded on, on this stolen labor.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: You know, Alice, we have some really powerful closing thoughts from the folk that you interviewed. Paula Peters is one and Sven Haakanson is another.

Paula Peters: I think as history is being taught to be more inclusive of the Indigenous story, it is legitimizing the Indigenous people that are still here. It is giving them, it is giving me the power of my own story. If you don't know the whole story, you're gonna walk away, you know, with a fairy tale.

Andrés Reséndez: Throughout the history, there have been people opposed to the system, who recognize the immorality of this system.

Sven Haakanson: If one is a multiracial citizen of this republic, shouldn't they learn a multiracial past?

Paula Peters: These are sisters, brothers, cousins. They're grandmamas, they're little babies in arms. They're families.

Sven Haakanson: But we need to know this so that we can move forward too, both as Indigenous communities but as a nation.

Alice Green: You know, we do have a strong, rich culture still. We know where we're from, we know the lands where we come from, our people have lived there for thousands and thousands of years.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Teaching Hard History is a podcast from Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center—helping teachers and schools prepare students to be active participants in a diverse democracy. Teaching Tolerance provides free teaching materials about slavery and the civil rights movement that include award-winning films and classroom-ready texts. You can find these online at Tolerance.org.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Most students leave high school without an understanding of the civil rights movement and its continuing relevance. This podcast is part of an effort to change that. We began by talking about slavery for two seasons. And now we’re tracing the legacies of that era into the present day.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Thanks to Alice Glenn from Coffee and Quaq for talking to us about her documentary The Forgotten Slavery, produced in conjunction with Teaching Tolerance.

Alice Green: Savaktuŋa kuuppiaġlu quaġlumi. I now work full time on my podcast, which is titled Coffee and Quaq. Quaq is the Iñupiaq word for frozen or raw meat or fish, a delicacy we have in Northern Alaska. My podcast is available on my website, www.coffeeandquaq.com.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: This podcast is produced by Shea Shackelford. Russell Gragg is our associate producer. Mary Quintas is our technical producer. And "Movement Music" is produced by Barrett Golding. Gabriel Smith provides content guidance. Our interns are Miranda LaFond and Amelia Gragg. And Kate Shuster is our executive producer.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: Our theme song is “The Colors That You Bring” by Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble, who graciously let us use it for this series. Additional music is from their album Where Future Unfolds. And from Wendel Patrick's JDWP Tribute.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: If you like what you’ve heard, please share it with your friends and colleagues. And let us know what you think. You can find us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. We always appreciate your feedback.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries: I’m Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, associate professor of history at The Ohio State University, and your host for Teaching Hard History.

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