On July 12, 2014 it was brought to our attention that a group of students (Cohere) at the California College of Arts took some of save-wiyabi-project’s work and passed it off as their own for a grant. The work is our interactive map and database: missingsisters.crowdmap.com.
Since then I have been in limited contact with the school. This was first completely dismissed by the Center for Art and Public Life, and then ignored by all of the Board of Trustees and Design Strategy Advisory Board. When I was able to reach members of the administration they responded with “plagiarism aside” and “putting plagiarism aside” to my concerns and complaints of the stealing. They also said this was explicitly not about the actual cases or data, and that it was just “storytelling” - which was the point they reiterated when deciding it was not plagiarism by their standards (which they subsequently deleted from their website). To the contrary, the lead organizer of this storytelling project openly stated that this was about data collecting, data retaining, and database building. So we think that they not only copy and pasted our layout, design, language, functions, and entire purpose, but that they possibly pulled our cases and data. However we’re not entirely sure because since this was brought forward their entire online presence has evaporated.
In the midst of the school trying to dodge and deflect they admitted that they were very aware of who we are AFTER beginning all of this as if it was a brand new introduction to our organizing. We have now decided to fundraise for the amount the students were awarded (and then additionally crowdfunded for) in an effort to expand our own educational outreach and teach-ins, and also to continue challenging the school. We will be planning demonstrations in the month of August, so stay tuned.
This ongoing pattern of railroading, bulldozing, and co-opting of Indigenous peoples work is a serious and tiring problem (in addition to and outside of VDay and One Billion Rising). I would say this extends to all of the appropriation and stealing people of color constantly experience. The violence done to what we create is an extension of colonialism and imperialism, and part of the constant agendas imposed on us, and attempts at dominating and assimilating our activism. It’s also important for us to note that to this day we have not sought money in any form for our work. If we wanted this type of recognition or grants, we would have been active in getting them. We have made the strategic and political decision to self-fund as we know that the Industrial Complexes intent on controlling the direction of this organizing are also abusive institutions. Since the launch of Operation Thunderbird (what the map and database originally started as), there have been a number of attempts at discrediting and dismissing this. Operation Thunderbird, now called The Save Wįyąbi Mapping Project, is a place where decades of data and research are housed, stories by families are shared, and a large illustration of the bigger picture of violence against Indigenous women can be seen. This is also where have been able to locate and identify problems to then be able to address them better, for ourselves as Indigenous people. We have even examined more of the deeper variables that demonstrate why and how this violence and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is so deep (for more info about the ‘Triple Disappearance’ phenomenon please see: http://www.salon.com/2014/02/14/the_missing_women_you_dont_hear_about_how_the_media_fails_indigenous_communities/).
We are aware of the depth of the investment there is to control the narrative of this violence we organize around, and that white supremacy usurping this is a tactic to protect the entities to which our work is a threat to. And with that we will also be challenging the corporations that finance this school and this particular “storytelling project”. The White-Savior-Academic-Non Profit-Prison-Industrial-Complex has got to go!
For more information about how to support our fundraising and an article write-up on the situation, please see: http://save-wiyabi-project.tumblr.com/post/93412275436/teach-in-summer-fundraiser. Thank you so much for your support.