Teacher talks about 'Growing Up Part-time Indian'

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Feb. 26, 2013
Kevin Brodie with his fellow Lyman teacher, Liza Escott, in a photo taken for a tolerance campaign. Contributed photo. - Contributed Photo

As a student at Lyman Memorial High School, Melissa Nosal was struck by stories told by her social studies teacher about growing up on a native American reservation in Nevada. Now at Eastern Connecticut State University, Nosal remembered Kevin Brodie when she heard that the university’s intercultural center was putting together its spring semester social justice programming.

On Feb. 25, Brodie appeared at the university’s Student Center Auditorium to talk about his life. Entitled “Growing Up Part-time Indian,” Brodie’s program focused on the lessons he learned during his time on the reservation, and the ways that they shaped his life going forward.

Brodie spent his summers on the Duck Valley reservation in Nevada from the ages of 5 through 18. There, he spent time with relatives including his grandfather, a full-blooded Shoshone. Brodie doesn’t look particularly native American, a fact which he highlighted through a story he labeled as “my first real experience with injustice and bigotry.”

After a long ride into town for a visit to the store, Brodie said that he and his relatives were approached by the local sheriff and his deputy. “Here you have these two Indians with this Gaelic-looking guy,” said Brodie. “The only logical explanation was that I’d been kidnapped.” The men were able to straighten out the misunderstanding peacefully, but Brodie has never forgotten the racial slur that one of the men hurled at them as they were leaving. “I’d never heard that term before,” he said. “And I’ve never forgotten it.”

During the course of his 13 summers in Nevada, Brodie said that he experienced 27 funerals and numerous arrests. Many of both were related to the same thing - the nuclear testing area that the federal government developed on a portion of the tribe’s land. After obtaining the land through questionable practices, the government detonated a total of 1,021 nuclear bombs on the site between 1951 and 1992, according to Brodie. “The area around the test site has the highest rate of cancer and leukemia in the U.S.,” he said. “Only Chernobyl has a higher rate.” The government denies any connection between the test site and the illnesses, said Brodie.

On the other side of the reservation lies Yucca Mountain, “the holiest mountain in the tribe’s religion,” said Brodie. The federal government identified Yucca Mountain as the future nuclear waste site for the entire U.S., according to Brodie. “So on one side of our people’s land we have a nuclear test site; on the other we have the nuclear waste repository,” he said.

Brodie said he was arrested numerous times during protests related to the nuclear sites. He was also arrested during an attempt to protect a native cattle farmer as authorities came to pick him up for overgrazing his own land. The 62-year-old man, a “decorated Vietnam War veteran,” eventually spent 14 years in jail, said Brodie.

Brodie said that his years on the reservation taught him many lessons, and influenced his desire to become a social studies teacher, teaching civics to younger generations. “What I have learned,” he said, “is that there is not quite justice for all; we’re not quite there yet. I’ve learned that all indigenous people deserve respect, not just those with casinos. I’ve learned there’s much work left to be done, and that governments must be held accountable.”

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