Keynote speaker Erica Littlewolf, Northern Cheyenne from southeastern Montana, speaks at the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship conference in February 2020. She works for Mennonite Central Committee’s Indigenous Visioning Circle. (Photo by Macson McGuigan) This post was originally published at EMU News.
EMU hosted the 2020 Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship February 7-9. The Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship (ICPF) is an annual student-led conference for students exploring peace and justice from a faith perspective. The conference brings together students from Mennonite-affiliated colleges across the United States and Canada. This year’s conference saw participants from Bethel College, Bluffton University, James Madison University, Eastern Mennonite High School, as well as EMU students, faculty, and staff.
This year’s ICPF gathering provided space for students to examine whose voices are heard and whose are missing across a range of peace and justice issues. Using the theme “Nothing about Us without Us,” participants addressed questions both about the “what” of justice and peacebuilding as well as the “how,” asking questions like: who belongs? who’s in and who’s out? How does this work address root causes and structures like imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy?
The conference keynote was Erica Littlewolf. Littlewolf opened the conference Friday evening and also closed it Sunday morning. She is Northern Cheyenne from southeastern Montana who works for Mennonite Central Committee’s Indigenous Visioning Circle. She has extensive experience with indigenous issues globally and is applies her life experience, with formal and informal education to social justice issues and how they affect Indigenous people, especially women.
Littlewolf shared several stories in response to the question of “how” we do justice and peacebuilding work, drawing from her personal experiences as well as the experiences of her community.
“Littlewolf was one of the most inspiring speakers I’ve heard in a long time,” said EMU student Clara Weybright. “She left me energized and challenged me, in particular, to think about the ways in which indigenous stories are held and shared. I was so grateful that EMU had the opportunity to host her. I hope I cross paths with her in the future.”
Another EMU student Mariana Martinez-Hernandez, named some take-aways: “We must decentralize humans. By paying attention to how the world can benefit from us rather than the other way around, we can gain insight on how every single thing works interconnectedly. Erica’s stories led to the constant reminder to listen to our bodies and our body- God, Earth, Plants, Animals, Humans. Us. We must listen from the heart.”
The Saturday morning program included a panel with participants from a number of local community organizations in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, including representatives from Fuego Coalition, Coming to the Table, Church World Service, and Faith in Action.
Throughout the day, conference participants also joined a number of break out sessions. These sessions provided space for participants to share from their own experiences. Session topics included sexual health, remembrance-based justice, housing insecurity, Hegelian representations in film, epigenetic healing, and interfaith engagement.
Saturday evening offered a film screening of the film Dawnland, a documentary about the first official “truth and reconciliation commission” in the United States addressing the history of state agencies forcibly removing Native American children from their communities. The discussion that followed identified the challenges and importance of truth-telling and reparation for historic harms in the work of justice and peacebuilding.
Littlewolf closed the conference Sunday morning sharing reflections and observations on the weekend, encouraging participants to honor the stories that were shared by continuing the work of peace and justice in their own lives and communities.
EMU student leadership for this year’s conference came from Lindsay Acker, Elena Bernardi, Anisa Leonard, and Emily Powell. Peacebuilding and Development graduate Jacob Lester served as conference coordinator. Support was provided by a number of groups on campus including Peace Fellowship, the Orie Miller Center, and the Center for Interfaith Engagement.