Learn the system, work the system.

That’s the motto of Mikailah Thompson as she works to create change and equality for the people of her community — Black, Nimiipuu and women. It’s how Thompson came to talk about the intersectionality of race and gender as part of Lewiston’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day community celebration Monday.

Thompson spoke via Zoom at the YWCA from her residence in Alexandria, Va. She is a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and graduated from Lewis-Clark State College in 2020 with a degree in business and communication and a minor in Nez Perce language. She owns Beadwork by Mikailah, is the founder of Indigenous Creative and co-hosts the Quantum Theory Podcast. She also helps direct the Juneteenth celebration on the Nimiipuu reservation.

For Thompson, she said she experiences discrimination in how people treat her as a Black person, Native American and as a woman. In the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, Thompson said she is often the only person of color when she walks into a room. That feeling of not having people around like her makes her feel like her voice doesn’t matter and she’s afraid to share her opinion. If she shares that opinion too strongly, “I’m looked at as an angry Black woman.”

Thompson then spoke to those in attendance at the event, asking them as members of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley to support their youth, especially with representation within the schools and their faculty and resources.

“There are so many different books, so many different films with so many different messages that empower (underrepresented students),” she said.

Thompson challenged teachers in schools to be allies for students of color against bullying and racism, which gives students someone to connect with and feel supported by.

Land acknowledgements — making a statement in recognition of the tribal land a school or institution is on — is another way to support Native American students. Thompson said she didn’t experience that until college.

“I remember feeling seen,” she said. “Not only that I mattered, but that my ancestors were on the land I was being taught on.”

To create the change needed to bring equality in our country, Thompson said people in the community need to speak up and understand the history faced by underrepresented cultures — and let people of color speak up.

“It’s really important to come together and change the community and make it better and change it for the next generation so they have a voice,” she said.

After Thompson spoke, people in attendance participated in a candlelit march to the Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History. At the Center, individuals presented vignettes on “Unsung Heroes of the Struggle for Human Rights,” including Gov. Brad Little in a prerecorded message, and LCSC President Cynthia Pemberton.

Nez Perce Tribal chairman Samuel Penney also spoke about the history of civil rights, discussing a speech from Martin Luther King Jr. concerning freedom and equality. Penney compared that speech to a message from Chief Joseph, who spoke about his people — the Nez Perce — having the freedom to choose a future for themselves.

Penney shared that King said equality takes a personal commitment from the individual. “If we’re going to make any change in this country,” he said, “we have to make a personal commitment.”

Brewster may be contacted at kbrewster@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2297.

On the web

Mikailah Thompson and Kellen Lewis host a podcast discussing current events and amplify Black and Indigenous voices at quantumtheorypod.com.

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