Native Americans share their stories in “From Truth to Power”


Shaler Area HS

The promotional material for the “From Truth to Power” event

Columbus Day is celebrated every year on the second Monday in October to mark the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World. However, this “New World” was not as new as people may think. It had actually been inhabited by Indigenous people for at least 20,000 years before the arrival of Columbus.

The term ‘Indigenous’ refers to an ethnic culture that is native to the land. Unfortunately, this part of history is not typically known and a lot of Indigenous people’s experiences have not been positive.

For junior Cassidy Laffey, this was an issue that needed to be addressed. Laffey is a part of a national organization called “Together We Remember” run by David Estrin, the grandson of four Holocaust survivors, which works towards “transforming remembrance of the past into a powerful movement for peace in the present.”

Throughout the quarantine, events were planned each month and Laffey was chosen to plan an event for the month of October. Laffey and a student from the state of Indiana, Ishreet Lehal, worked together to organize an event that let Indigenous people tell their stories.

“For the Together We Remember event, we wanted to make something that would showcase Indigenous culture without taking their voice,” Laffey said.

Lehal initiated a conversation with an Indigenous girl that she knew to get the ball rolling, and that is how the “From Truth to Power: Indigenous Youth Leaders Speak” event came to be. Although the event was not able to be in person due to the pandemic, virtually conducting the event actually proved to be beneficial because it was able to reach a wider audience.

It is really important to know that with being an activist, you want people to listen, but you don’t want them to just listen to you. You want them to listen to the people who need to be heard.

— Cassidy Laffey

During the event, the audience, tuning in from around the country, asked four Indigenous youth leaders questions about their culture and also listened to their stories. Lehal and Laffey also had questions prepared in advance for the panel. The Indigenous youth speakers told their stories and enlightened the audience about the truth of their history.

“It is really important to know that with being an activist, you want people to listen, but you don’t want them to just listen to you. You want them to listen to the people who need to be heard,” Laffey said.

The event proved to be successful with over 150 people attending virtually. Laffey deemed it a huge success and was very inspired after hearing the leader’s stories.

One of the stories was about the discrimination the community faces by the U.S. government as the leaders said it was hard for them to be active in modern political elections. This year was different, though. They flocked to the polls to get a president in office who would work hard to protect their rights. Many minorities were highlighted this year, but yet again, Natives were left out of the tally.

“It is so important to talk about their stories because 9 times out of 10, there will not be a Native sitting in the room with you,” Laffey said.

Mr. Nick Haberman, leader of the LIGHT Initiative, also helped out with the event. The LIGHT Initiative is an organization that inspires students to be leaders in Holocaust, genocide, and human rights education and support. He conveyed his beliefs in the importance of spreading Indigenous people’s stories when he helped with this event.

“Overall, the history of Indigenous People in the United States needs to be told better, and we need to look to Indigenous leaders for direction on how best to heal these wounds. Their land was stolen, their ancestors were murdered and oppressed, and the history was marginalized. We need to do a better job as Americans,” Mr. Haberman said.

Shaler Area Superintendent, Sean Aiken, was also in attendance and found it to be very meaningful.

“I thought that was tremendous and I look forward to us bringing more and more events and activities into our district like that,” Mr. Aiken said.