February is Black History Month, October goes to Breast Cancer Awareness but what about the month of November? Unbeknownst to some, November is dedicated to creating awareness for Native American heritage.
UNCG played their part in helping to recognize Native American heritage this past week. On Nov. 9, UNCG’s Native American Student Association hosted a Native Talkers event in the EUC office of Intercultural Engagement.
The event was designed with the intent to share knowledge and educate those in attendance about Native American heritage. Five “talkers” were present to share their background, as well as their unique experiences in relation to their heritage. Four of the talkers on the panel were students of UNCG.
President of the Native American Student Associate, Raven Stanley, introduced the event with her vice president, Seth Oxendine. After a short explanation of NASA and the talk to follow, they welcomed everyone to enjoy the refreshments provided before the panel began their discussion.
Five Native American tribes from North Carolina were present across the panel. Of the eight tribes in North Carolina, five were represented in the group of speakers. First to enter the discussion was Lily Richardson, a member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe.
After speaking about her heritage, she pondered a question that other members of the panel would soon tackle as well: What is it like to be a Native American student at UNCG?
“It’s empowering,” Richardson said. Richardson went on to say she felt like she was “beating the odds, being what everyone didn’t expect me to be.”
Joy Hunt, another student on the panel, is a member of the Lumbee tribe. On being a Native American student at UNCG, Hunt said she, “Loves the opportunity to educate people on our culture” through NASA.
Mika Tucker, a panel member of the Waccamaw Siouan tribe, described how she felt at home at UNCG. Prior to arrival, she had feared being alone, but has found the transition to being a student easier than imagined.
Fourth panel member, student Chris Reed, a member of the Cherokee tribe, spoke about his experience as a part of UNCG, stating that interacting with the community has been great and that his time at the school has been problem-free in relation to his heritage.
Reed went on to add that, while nearly full-blooded Cherokee, he still finds society mistake his race frequently; all of panel members stressed that they had faced similar remarks from others before.
Last to speak was Vivette Jeffries, the only panel member present who was not a student at UNCG. Jeffries introduced herself in Tutelo, the language of her tribe, Occaneechi Saponi. She explained that she had also said: “Welcome to our land,” in the Tutelo language.
While never a student at UNCG, Jeffries said that she has attended three different universities throughout her lifetime, and that it was sometimes difficult, as there were times when she was the only Native American student in the room. She even shared a poem about what it felt like to be a lonely student as a Native American.
An opportunity for the attendees to ask questions directly to the panel arose after the preliminary introductions and speeches had been made by each of the members.
The question of what it’s like to have your race assumed was brought back to the foreground, as this was clearly a point of discussion that the panel members had dealt with frequently in their lives, but also an area that many attendees may not understand, having never been in the situation of onlookers assuming or being unsure of their race.
“What are you” was understood to be offensive, however they underscored that, given the frequency they are asked this, people should use discretion and either ask politely or not at all.
One attendee present asked how we—those of us who are not Native American—could help to make Native American’s more comfortable. The panel members agreed that being there, present at and supporting the NASA event, was exactly the kind of action that they liked to see being taken.
They agreed that while there are few stupid questions that can be asked, that people inquiring about Native American heritage should be cautious of their phrasing, as words hold a great deal of power.
NASA will be hosting more events in November to help recognize Native American Heritage Month. On Nov. 19, there will be a NC American Indian Heritage Month Celebration at the NC Museum of History.