November marks the advent of Native American heritage month, and as such, UNCG’s Native American Student Association president, Raven Stanley, sat down with this writer to discuss the importance of this month to her as a Native woman.
With regard to how she feels about the Keystone Pipeline and its advancement throughout this month of pride and awareness, Stanley said, “I feel that this is, from my experience just being alive, that this is actually the first event that all tribes, 99 percent of the tribes in the United States have come together in unity. And as an American Indian woman, I do feel empowered to an extent, but I feel like this is not enough. There is still more that has to be done, I know that with us here on campus, we shared with a group of standing in solidarity, and we stood with them. But, I feel like as an American Indian woman, my voice needs to be heard; voices need to be heard.”
Throughout the month of November, Stanley emphasized that she and NASA have organized various events and protests, on and off campus, to both raise awareness for issues affecting Native Americans and convey that issues such as the cultural appropriation of Native regalia is harmful to Native people.
Of these events, Stanley said she and NASA organized a Halloween event in her tribe’s Native regalia to show non-Native people that her culture is not the racist stereotypes that Halloween costumes reflect.
“Of course for Halloween that just came around, we did two campaigns throughout October on the 14th and the 28th, and it was pretty much that my culture is not a costume. Because as you see, we had these huge signs, and they were pretty much pictures of people dressing up on Halloween at a party, trying to be American Indian. And so what we did, is we pretty much stood in the EUC commons… and we talked to people and just educated them that this [wearing Native regalia as a costume] is not appropriate and the things you see in costume shops is by no means a representation of a American Indian. And actually me, and another American Indian student dressed up in our traditional Native attire; and we call them regalias,” said Stanley.
Stanley also discussed Donald Trump’s sentiments toward Native people, and how this makes her feel with his recent election of President of the United States.
“I have seen and I know his opinions on indigenous people, and um, I’m concerned. I don’t think that he knows really, what we are and who we are. And that, my ancestors have been here for tens of thousands of years; versus a lot of Americans that have come over from other countries, and even though that’s been over 200 years, my ancestors and my people have always been here,” said Stanley.
Additionally, Stanley said that the emotional toll of colonization on Native people will be discussed in their event, Transcending Trauma, on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in the EUC auditorium.
Discussing the trauma of Native people in Transcending Trauma, Stanley emphasized, is an important event to have during Native American heritage month because many non-Native people do not understand that the effects of colonization are not in the past, and affect her every day.
“It [colonization] affects the things that my grandparents went through, that my mom went through. The kind of questions that I get asked every day since I was a child, ‘do I live in a teepee’, ‘do I speak Indian’; and people didn’t believe that I had running water and a roof over my head just like everybody else. That impacts me. We’re still fighting and we’ve got a lot to fight about. And we’re not done until things get done.”
Stanley continued that the reason she felt that Native American heritage month is important because, “This is a month that we get to be recognized and in a positive way, we really get to use this time to really educate people. And I really think that’s our medicine; that’s what’s gonna help.”
Stanley also said that she feels as though educating people about Native issues is a form of healing.
An upcoming event for Native American heritage month that Stanley and NASA encourage people to attend is the 21st Annual American Indian Heritage Celebration at the North Carolina Museum of History, on Nov. 19 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.