Campus ceremony reflects on racism

Dancers and guest speakers were featured in the Tree of Peace ceremony. Photo credit: Alex Boesch

A series of racial incidents on campus more than 25 years ago led to the Tree of Peace being planted on campus. On Saturday, many community members took place in a ceremony celebrating the impact and message that the tree represents.

Jake Swamp, founder of the Tree of Peace Society and member of the Mohawk Nation Council of Chiefs, came to Chico and planted the first tree. He was remembered throughout the ceremony.

The event featured dancers and guest speakers. Red ties were put on the tree at the end of the ceremony to emphasize the trees’ message.

Discriminating acts toward Indians and other ethnic groups led to the idea to plant the Tree of Peace.

President Paul Zingg said there was an ugly scene going on that wasn’t being addressed immediately.

“I think some of what happened back then was sort of looking the other way and hoping that it was just a single incident, but it was more than that,” Zingg said.

Several students from different communities were being harassed and made to feel unwelcome.

“I think that’s the beauty of this message,” he said. “It’s not just a Native American tree. It’s a statement about respect and commitment that transcends any community.”

Doyle Lowry, president of the American Indian Club in 1989, experienced racism on campus and has been dealing with it his whole life.

He’s been called “warhoo” and “wagonburner” and has learned to look past it.

“The reality of it is you just move on, because you could get lost fighting racism every place you turn around, because it’s still here,” Lowry said.

To him, the trees of peace mean burying the hatchet and starting new.

“It is truly a tree of peace,” he said. “We should not do wars; we should be living in peace. We’re all human, we’re all one people.”

The initial tree was actually vandalized, so out of fear it would die, another tree was planted. There are now two trees of peace.

Tom Sawyer, a retired Chico State employee, witnessed the planting of the second tree and remembers it being a wonderful Indian ceremony with members from different areas and tribes.

Yellow ties on the tree were meant to give an image of hope for the campus.

“It seemed to unify the campus after that,” Sawyer said. “It seemed like a real wake up call.”

The trees make an impact with their representation of culture and peace.

“My hope is that both trees will continue to symbolize peace in our community,” Sawyer said.

Dominique Diaz can be reached at [email protected] or @dominiqueldiaz on Twitter.