Social activist brings justice debate to Woonsocket students

Social activist brings justice debate to Woonsocket students

Woonsocket High School Social Studies teacher David Andrews displays a mock tipi, brought back from North Dakota. (Breeze photo by Sandy Seoane)
Woonsocket educator petitions Brown University to return land to Native American tribe

WOONSOCKET – Woonsocket High School social studies teacher David Andrews didn’t always consider himself to be particularly active in politics.

An 18-year teacher in the Woonsocket education system, Andrews was born in the city, raised in neighboring North Smithfield, and graduated from Mount Saint Charles Academy. He was hired by the district in 1999 and received his master’s degree in English language learning and cross-cultural studies from Brown University in 2012.

But it was only while working on his doctorate in philosophy at the University of Rhode Island over the past several years that his passion for, and dedication to, social justice causes ignited.

Andrews now serves on the board of directors of a growing nonprofit made up of former military members doing humanitarian work. His interests led him to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where he built a backup camp for protesters attempting to block the Dakota Access Pipeline. In Washington, D.C., he was among a group of veterans who shut down pipeline financier SunTrust Bank for a day in support of the Native Nations Rise March.

With Veterans Service Corps, a new national organization for which he serves as the secretary, Andrews has helped to build Little League facilities and a gardening center for the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe of South Dakota.

He’s brought his knowledge of the treatment of Native Americans and violations of 1st Amendment rights, like the disruption of what he describes as peaceful unarmed protests in North Dakota, to his students for debate and discussion.

“The situation with the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock ignited my activism, and I have indeed brought my own experiences into the classroom,” he told The Breeze. “My students have debated the building of the pipeline, and it is important that they think about endeavors like this from multiple perspectives – economic, social, environmental, etc.”

Recently, Andrews became aware of the plight of the Pokanoket tribe, which established an encampment on land owned by Brown University in Bristol. The tribe says it owned the 375-acre parcel before it was illegally transferred to the colonists in 1680. It was donated to the college by the Heffenreffer family in 1955.

Andrews says the issue is Rhode Island’s Standing Rock, and in a letter to Brown President Christina Paxson, he calls for return of the land.

“In the past, Brown has advocated for social justice and civil rights,” Andrews writes. “One might also think that such a school would be in favor of returning ancestral lands to an indigenous tribe that suffered so greatly under the yoke of imperialist settler colonialism,” he said. That area of land “is presumably a drop in the bucket for a university with a $3.2 billion endowment.”

Brown spokesman Brian Clark pointed out that the college has been working toward a resolution with the tribe.

“The university has been working earnestly and in good faith to address the concerns of the encamped Pokanoket people in ways that are responsive to the concerns of the local tribes, which include others with ancestral ties to the Pokanokets,” said Clark. “We remain committed to further discussion and our hope is to reach an agreement about a stewardship approach that is inclusive of all Native peoples that have a historical connection to the Bristol land.”

Andrews also criticized Brown for censoring students after a letter from the college’s Native American and Indigenous Studies initiative asked students and faculty not to share petitions, fundraising drives, or materials sponsored by Fighting Against Natural Gas, a group partnered with the Pokanokets.

“Brown is one of the more liberal universities,” he told The Breeze. “They’re supposed to be in tune with social justice issues.”

Clark defended the communication, saying it was an effort to ensure member of the college community make informed decisions.

“We are a learning community grounded in a commitment to respect for the views of others — even and especially when we disagree — and students and faculty at Brown are free to express whatever viewpoint they may have on this situation and others,” Clark said.

The college recently made a settlement offer in an attempt to end the dispute that the university says would have given the tribe greater access to the land. The tribe rejected the offer and scheduled a march on the college on Tuesday.

It’s a cause Andrews hopes to take on with the soon-to-be-created local chapter of Veteran Service Corps.

The group, currently working on becoming an official nonprofit, has recently focused on work with the Sioux in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, where they refurbished a youth center and helped build some outbuildings for the tribe’s June Sundance ritual. Andrews delivered sports equipment to the tribe over the summer with his son.

“Part of our philosophy is healing through service,” he said. “Our objective, our goal, is purely humanitarian.”

The teacher says the classroom is a chance to shine light on issues often not covered by conventional media, pointing to what he says was a mainstream blackout of the pipeline conflict.

“Obviously, I’m biased,” he said. “But a lot of these things don’t get exposed to the kids, and they are things they need to know about.”

Comments

So this guy says “Obviously, I’m biased, But a lot of these things don’t get exposed to the kids, and they are things they need to know about.” Do we really want a teacher who is, by his own admission, going to be indoctrinating kids to his one sided liberal activist thinking..? Dont be surprised when our test scores keep going down, but all of the kids know where the next protest is for the liberal cause of the day.

While they're young. Look up By Any Means Necessary you'd be amazed at what our education system has become.

If Liberals spout nothing but indoctrinating lies, why are you so afraid? Clearly it's all just fake news anyways. SAD!

When I had a history teacher at Cumberland Highschool who hung pictures of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan on his desk, no one decried "conservative brainwashing"!. When gym teachers made off comment remarks about my sexual-orientation on the grounds of traditional beliefs, no one claimed "tea-part infiltration!". But somehow a teacher who wants his kids to understand how and why social issues like the DAPL and the now encamped native-americans on Brown's property are happening, we are apparently teaching kids to "hashtag:join the resistance". I suppose we should only be teaching kids the same basic history lessons that lead most of our youth debating whether Ben Franklin was a president or not. Poor conservatives; it must be really hard to be so anti-intellectual in an increasingly expert-driven society.

Unfortunately, the ignorant feel history is set in stone and have no concept what the discipline actually means. Too often we cling to ignorance while shouting 'revisionist history!'. Such a simple mindset is horrifying. Imagine making the same dish of food the same way every day for dinner. Remember, we all knew things as children we no longer believe to be true as adults.

Well, some of us anyways.