By Sophia Harris
By Kaitlin Carman
Framingham State will honor Native American people with a series of permanent mural installations.
The University will also host events through the Center for Inclusive Excellence for students to learn about Native American history and culture during Native American Heritage Month in November.
According to Vice President & Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Jeffery Coleman, the murals will be created between December 2023 and June 2024.
The Division of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (DICE) “will work with a faculty member and students from the Department of Art and Music to create artistic murals around campus which will serve as visual recognition that the land we live, work, learn, and commune on is the original homeland of Native Americans,” according to Coleman.
The murals will be “strategically placed around the campus,” said Coleman.
He said the murals will be a “permanent recognition of the land the FSU campus is located on and an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory we reside on, and a way of honoring the Indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial.”
He added, “It is important to understand the long-standing history that has brought us to reside here, and to seek to understand our place within that history.”
Coleman said these works of art will “serve to acknowledge the painful history of genocide and forced removal from the land upon which our campus sits, and honor and respect the many diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land on which we gather.”
He added before creating the murals, FSU art students will have the “valuable opportunity to engage with representatives from regional tribal communities” in order to ensure the murals are respectfully representative of Native American heritage and culture.
Coleman said during these meetings, students will “receive guidance and insights to ensure the pieces respectfully reflect Native American culture.”
Once the murals are completed, they will have a “profound impact, reaching a wide audience that includes current students, faculty, staff members, and visitors, including prospective students and families exploring the campus,” he said.
Love Richardson-Williams, the tribal counselor and liaison of the Nipmuc Nation Hassanamisco Band of the Tribal Government of the Nipmuc Nation, said her recommendation “would be to include tribal people of Massachusetts in the creation of your artwork and installation.”
Richardson-Williams is also the tribal relations strategist for the nine federally recognized tribes of Oregon and worked in academia for the past 15 years.
She indicated that Robert Peters, who is a Mashpee Wampanoag artist, poet, and author, creates artwork that represents the people, the tribes, and the nations of the commonwealth of Massachusetts.
She said Peters' artwork “looks like the original people who inhabited that territory,” rather than what is commonly known as a “Plain-style Indian - geometrical” representation.
Richardson-Willams said, “Being able to have imagery of who we are as a people - that's accurate,” is incredibly important to the depiction of Native American peoples.
She said, “All too often, Natives aren't even included in the conversation - which is - I'm sure the intent is heartfelt when it's initiated - but not including those voices is a huge problem.”
She also said a university’s land acknowledgment is also crucial in order to honor the “peoples whose bones are in the Earth that you are walking on.”
Framingham State’s land acknowledgment is, “We would like to acknowledge that the land we live, work, learn, and commune on is the original homeland of the Nipmuc tribal nations. We acknowledge the painful history of genocide and forced removal from this territory, and we honor and respect the many diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land on which we gather,” according to the University’s website.
Richardson-Williams said it is important for universities to “weave into the fabric of an institution, symbolisms, truths, and Indigenous perspectives in your curriculum, not just from a scholarly perspective. … Have actual Indigenous People come in and speak about themselves. Invite them to the table.”
Tribal Community Relations Liaison for FSU Rebecca Hawk, who works in the division of DICE, has represented Native American tribes regionally, nationally, and internationally and identifies as Native American herself, said it is important for the University to engage with local tribes by learning how they would like to be represented.
Hawk said, “This mural project and the projects Jerome [Burke, director of the CIE] has started are going to do that and they're great to honor Native Americans.”
She added she also wants to ensure that “Native peoples are engaged with us on an artistry level” as well as on an “official government-to-government engagement level.”
Hawk said she is working on building those relationships from that perspective.
She said she has recently been in conversation with the agency of the Commission on Indian Affairs, located in Massachusetts, and a non-profit organization called the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness.
“Framingham State leadership is seeking ways to encourage community engagement between the tribal governments and Native People in order to promote more positive and reciprocal relationships that honor the historical and present-day place of tribes in the region,” said Hawk.
One of the ways Framingham State is striving to improve the relationships between local Native American tribes and itself is the new FSU logo that was introduced in May 2023 as part of its rebranding mission and after years of discussions regarding an offensive representation of a Native American on the previous logo.
Additionally, the use of the University seal will be permanently suspended until a decision is made by the state regarding its seal. In place of the seal, the University will now use the logo, according to President Nancy Niemi, quoted in a Sept. 15 Gatepost article.
According to Hawk, Maria Turner, who is chair of the Nipmuc Tribal Council, expressed in a letter to the University her opinion that the Framingham State seal that “depicts an image of an Indigenous individual holding the bow and arrow … allows racist views to continue against Indigenous people in Framingham and Natick areas, and throughout the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Hawk said Turner “made it very clear” that the community did not want to be represented in this way.
The University suspended the use of the seal in May 2023, although the 2023 graduating class did have the seal included on their diplomas.
According to the Sept.15 Gatepost article, it is not known when the state will make a decision regarding whether the seal will be changed officially. However, the University wanted to proactively stop using a seal that is considered offensive, racist, and does not appropriately represent Framingham State.
The state established the Special Commission Relative to the Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth to investigate the features of the official seal and motto of the commonwealth and propose suggestions to the General Court in 2021. It voted to pursue a complete redesign in 2022.
The deadline for the commission to finalize its suggestions is November 15, 2023.
[Editor’s Note: See “University logo updated; use of seal suspended” published Sept. 15.]
Hawk said, “Working with Native American tribes and peoples requires a lot of effort.
“We want to honor who they are and there's a lot of diversity among Native Americans. It takes a great deal of effort and it takes time to build these relationships,” she said.
Framingham State has multiple events scheduled for Native American Heritage Month, most of which will be held in the Center for Inclusive Excellence.
The Henry Whittemore Library will also have a bulletin board display in the front lobby and a book display featuring information about Native American Heritage that will be live on Nov. 1, according to library Student Engagement Coordinator Kathleen Barnard.
CIE Director Burke said the center will hold three events in November to honor Native American Heritage Month.
One event that will take place in the CIE on Nov. 8 is Indigenous Storytelling and Recipes.
Burke said the department is “seeking to partner with members of the Indigenous community.” However, the CIE is still in dialogue in order to have a representative from that community come to FSU.
During this event, there will also be recipes shared from the Native American community.
He said through this event, he is hoping the FSU community “can learn about the Native American history, their tradition, and the significance of their community.”
There will also be an art showcase called the Native American Traveling Exhibit in which the CIE will be working with the Framingham Research Center to hold an art exhibit that “will showcase the Native American community and provide an opportunity for [students] to learn about the Indigenous community through arts,” said Burke.
The CIE will also partner with the FSU art department to host a “Native American bracelet-making” session, Burke said.
He said students will have the opportunity to create their own bracelets, rings, and chains.
He added the bracelet-making will be “influenced - using the style and art form that the Native American community often does.”
Emma Laurie, program coordinator for the CIE, said it is important for people “to learn about cultures that are different than their own as well as seeing their cultures reflected.”
She added, “It is really important - especially because Framingham State resides on Indigenous land - to not only understand the land that we occupy, but also, become aware of the cultures and celebrate them all year, not just for the Native American Heritage Month.”
Laurie said for more information about these upcoming events, the community can follow the CIE’s Instagram @framstatecie.
Junior Kaylie Valente said the few emails she received from professors referring to the federal holiday as Indigenous People’s Day made it clear to her that the school was recognizing it.
However, she was unaware the University is located on land that originally belonged to the Nipmuc Nation. “There could be a plaque or flag. ... That way, people know more about it,” said Valente.
She said she took an American history to Reconstruction course that “briefly covered Indigenous people, but having a class entirely focused on that could be a really good way to recognize it.”
Sophomore Alyssa MacDougal said, “Maybe we could have an Indigenous Student Union.”
Sophomore Christy Howland said there are a “lot more things” the University can do to honor and recognize Native American people.
“Promote literature, plan events, show films, and have a statue. There are lots of small meaningful ways they could represent individuals more on campus,” she said.
Howland added she had “no idea” FSU is on Indigenous land. “I think that’s a great thing to know about your University’s history and if anything proves why we need more representation of them here on campus.”
Sophomore Sahmir Russer said he thinks FSU does “just as good of a job as the general public” in the representation of the Native American community.
He added, “In some cases, FSU does highlight it and in some cases, they don't.”
Russer said last year, he attended an event held in the library that was led by Maria Turner. He said he was “very happy that FSU provided that learning experience” for him.