Accomplice Project Unpacks Notre Dame’s Colonial History, Imagines Reparations

Accomplice, a project through the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, launched last week. The project aims to start a decolonial conversation about justice and reparations, specifically focused on the University’s past and current colonial injustices.

On the site, submitted stories are pinned to a specific location on a map of the University’s campus and local area relevant to that story. Many submissions are text-based – but other formats are welcome on the site, such as recorded conversations, panels, and artwork. Members of the Accomplice team have submitted their own writings, but most of the stories are by Notre Dame students or community members. Accomplice seeks to create a conversation within the community about the University’s past and present relationships as a colonial institution and to create a space for change to follow from that conversation.

The project is led by recent alumnus Liam Maher and graduate student Fiana Arbab, who both joined the Worker to discuss Accomplice earlier this semester.

Maher, a 4th generation Domer, graduated in 2018 with a BA in Art History. He received an MA in Art History from the University of Oregon last spring, and returned home to South Bend during the pandemic. He has been working part-time downtown in addition to serving as Accomplice’s project manager; this fall Maher is heading to Temple University to pursue a PhD in Art History.

Arbab is a graduate student in the Keough School of Global Affairs and the Kroc Institute. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan (where she served as student body president) and is now in her second year pursuing a Master of Global Affairs. She currently serves on the Keough School’s Dean’s Advisory Council and as Program Associate for the Kroc Institute’s Mediation Program.

The project also got its start thanks to Elizabeth Boyle, graduate student and former undergraduate student body president, Maher said.

The name of the project comes from the zine “Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex” by Indigenous Action, which calls out performative allyship and the “ally industrial complex”. Rather than allies, Indigenous Action proposes the idea of accomplices, who directly implicate themselves in the collective struggle for liberation. To emphasize this, Arbab referenced a quote by an Aboriginal rights group: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”.

Accomplice draws its philosophy from Indigenous activism and organizing, including Land Back (a movement demanding reparations and the return of lands to Indigenous people). In addition, the project embodies principles of transformative justice such as accountability and reciprocity.

Accomplice’s logo, inspired by David “Half Pint” Martin’s flag for the Pokagon Band. Courtesy of Liam Maher.

Discussing what decolonial efforts might look like in a university context, Maher brought up an example from the University of Oregon. The campus’s art museum, which has historically excluded Indigenous representation, has ceded a prominent section of the building to Indigenous artist Demian Dinéyazhi’ to display their anti-colonial and anti-capitalist poem “We Don’t Want a President”. UO’s precedent of offering space to Indigenous people also provides an example for Notre Dame and its contentious Life of Columbus murals to follow. (Maher has since written a full-length article on Accomplice regarding the Life of Columbus murals.)

Beyond a whitewashed representation of America’s founding, anti-colonial demands for the University include giving space for a Potawatomi longhouse on the shore of St. Mary’s Lake, flying the Pokagon Band’s flag over campus, and teaching a more complete history of Notre Dame and the Pokagon people (such as by including it in the Moreau FYE curriculum).

Reparations at Notre Dame are possible and realistic, and the submissions to Accomplice can help us imagine what those might look like and how to move forward.

Volume 1 of Accomplice features 12 pieces. Several are panel discussions on topics such as reparation. Another story outlines the history between the Pokagon Band and Notre Dame. Yet another is a feminist and decolonial critique of Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti. The variety of formats, writers’ backgrounds, and article topics are a strong start to what will hopefully become an ongoing conversation and process to decolonize institutional structures and places.

You can view Accomplice’s story map here. Updates about the project are posted on its Instagram page, and any communications to Accomplice can be addressed to Liam Maher (wmaher@nd.edu).

Author

  • Ashton is a junior at Notre Dame from West Michigan, studying environmental science. He often attends events for PrismND and Sunrise Movement South Bend, and spends much time on campus going on walks or studying in Club Hes. After graduation, he plans to either attend grad school or do field research in the Midwest or West. Ashton currently serves as editor in chief at The Irish Worker. He is most passionate about environmental issues, from the global climate emergency to environmental racism, and believes that we should work toward a new economic system that ensures the long-term survival of our planet (while also embracing immediate changes such as the Green New Deal). He is also passionate about the issues of policing and incarceration, and believes that both police and prisons should be abolished. You can reach him at abieri@nd.edu, or on Twitter and Instagram @ashton_bieri.

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