By Branden LaCroix
While many students and administrators are pleased with the events held over Native American Heritage Month, some members of the FSU community believe more can be done, and not just during November.
Eric Nguyen, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE), said the importance of Native American Heritage Month, like other months centered around identity and heritage, is it centers “the narratives and voices and experiences of people who have been historically marginalized and minoritized in our country.”
Nguyen said the recognition of Native heritage should not be exclusive to November. “It is meant to sort of create this upswelling of sharing knowledge - of raising awareness - that we can then carry that momentum for the rest of the year.
“Indigenous people inhabited this land before we were here. It’s a history that we largely ignore. When we do talk about the history, it’s largely abridged - inaccurate.”
Nguyen said throughout November, the CIE’s Instagram account created a series of posts asking people to “go beyond land acknowledgement.”
According to the FSU website, a land acknowledgement is “a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories.”
The statement continues, “We would like to acknowledge that the land we live, work, learn, and commune on is the original homelands 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.”
FSU’s Land Acknowledgment Statement was adapted from the American College Personnel Association’s website.
The land acknowledgement is also posted in various buildings across campus, including the McCarthy Center and the Whittemore Library.
The CIE’s Instagram posts asked various questions related to Native American rights and history, such as a Nov. 15 post which asked, “Are you voting against Native communities?” concerning whether the politicians people vote for support policies that further marginalize Native communities.
The final post for Native American Heritage Month was for “creating an action plan.”
The CIE’s own action plan includes holding at least three events concerning indigenous culture, some of which will be held outside of Native American Heritage Month, supporting Native American creators on social media, “hiring Indigenous speakers from the community,” and ensuring “the FSU community is aware of Indigenous events taking place in the MetroWest area,” according to the CIE’s Instagram post.
Nguyen added the CIE will also advocate for more sustainable and environmentally conscious practices on campus and advocating for curriculum centered on Indigenous history.
“How does our curriculum reflect our relationship to Indigenous communities?” he asked. “How do we embed more Indigenous knowledge into those courses? How do we think about our land management practices on campus, and do those reflect Indigenous priorities and perspectives in terms of how we care for and manage the land?”
He added FSU should also keep Indigenous students in mind through the University’s recruitment process, and look for ways to establish connections with local Indigenous communities.
“My goal is just to continue to raise that awareness and to get people talking about it,” Nguyen said. “A core part of our mission is to amplify narratives and voices and stories that we don't typically hear in the mainstream.”
This year, the CIE hosted several events for Native American Heritage Month. Two of those events were part of the “History in the Making” series of student-led discussions.
On Nov. 16, the first discussion in the series focused on residential schools in the U.S. and Canada, and the lack of acknowledgement of the genocide of Native Americans in education.
On Nov. 30, the CIE held another student-led discussion as part of the “History in the Making” series, “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women,” about the epidemic of violence committed against Indigenous women in Canada and the United States, and the racism and sexism that hinders native communities’ search for justice.
Jonathan Ribiero, a senior history major, was one of the students who worked with the CIE to organize the discussions for “History in the Making.”
He said, “We wanted to bring up these important issues, not just as historians, but as concerned citizens of the world.”
He said the events planned for Native American Heritage Month were about “solidarity and responsibility.
“Something I've heard over and over again is that no one's talking about what happened to the survivors of Indian residential schools and to the missing and murdered indigenous women, and we can't just tell people to ‘Google it.’ They should discuss it,” he added.
Ribiero said, “I hope this series makes more active citizens and advocates for human rights, especially for Native Americans.”
Abigayle Versackas, a senior history major, also helped organize the discussions.
Versackas said they wanted the events to happen before and after Thanksgiving “to keep the conversation around the extremely traumatic ‘holiday’ that was founded on colonization and genocide of Native folks.”
Rebecca Hawk, director of Academic English Language Programs and a descendant of the Haudenosaunee, has worked on establishing a relationship with the local Nipmuc community in Framingham for over a decade.
Hawk said there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation surrounding Native communities concerning words such as “inclusive.”
She said, “Being ‘inclusive’ of tribes is kind of strange because tribes have existed on this continent long before any Euro-American people have come here.”
Hawk said, “The greatest thing that we can do for Native Americans is to change our way of thinking and understand it’s not about including them - it's about recognition of them.”
She said, “We have to question our ethnocentric assumptions - our basis for thinking about things, because we think from within a dominant culture's frame of reference. … It requires us to think outside that framework and think about who we are in relation to them instead of where they are in relation to us.
“We're really looking at it from a dominant culture perspective that we need to ‘include’ them when in fact, they've been here long before us,” she said.
“It's recognizing who we are in relation to the people who've always been here,” she added.
Concerning FSU’s relationship with local Native communities, Hawk said FSU’s perspective is “well meaning” but has left a “cultural gap between institutions” in failing to recognize the perspectives of the Native communities.
Hawk said, “I think it will benefit everyone in this entire community - the University and beyond - if we can find a way to support and encourage understanding of tribal peoples in our local area.”
A part of her work establishing a relationship with local Native communities involved the changing of FSU’s seal, which she said Dan Magazu, director of communications, is now overseeing.
Magazu said the change of FSU’s seal is part of the University’s larger rebranding project.
He said the goal is “to find a new seal that better represents Framingham State University, while also continuing to educate the community on the history of our land and its ties to local indigenous tribes.”
Millie González, dean of the Whittemore Library, said the library holds events every year for Native American Heritage Month.
Last year, the library hosted several events for Native American Heritage Month using funds from the NEA Big Read grant, including a book discussion with Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and a presentation by Nipmuc poet Larry “Spotted” Crow.
The NEA Big Read is a grant given by the National Endowment for the Arts in collaboration with the nonprofit Arts Midwest, which “annually provides support to selected nonprofit organizations around the country to host dynamic community-wide reading programs,” according to the NEA website.
González said when preparing to set up last year’s events, she did a “deep dive” into Native American history. She said the one thing she learned is that she “didn’t know anything.
“I wasn’t taught anything like this in school. My knowledge was so inadequate. It was based off of things I had seen on TV, and things like that,” she said. “So, as a result, I made a commitment to continue working towards educating and supporting and highlighting Native American culture and heritage and providing information about the history.”
To González, the importance of Native American Heritage Month is that it is history that many people don’t know about but should.
This year, there is an “American Indian Reservation & Tribal Jurisdiction” map on display in the library’s foyer that details what native tribes reside in different areas of the United States.
There is also a display that details various Native American “Game Changers,” such as Harjo and Crow, as well as Wailacki Astronaut Nicole A. Mann, Lakota actor Jana Schmeiding, and current United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is from the Laguna Pueblo people.
The library also has a selection of books about Native American culture and history, as well as literature by Native American authors.
Erin Gemme, SGA diversity and inclusion officer and a sophomore early childhood education major, said Native American Heritage Month “is extremely important to shed light on how important it is that those people are here.”
They added they would like to be involved in more discussions centered around Native American culture and history. “I love to talk to people - to hear other people’s opinions and stories.
“I think it’s important to celebrate all of our differences,” they said.
Gemme said FSU’s Land Acknowledgment Statement is “a big step in the right direction,” but added the community should find other ways to honor Native American peoples.
Lydia DiGiovanni, a senior computer science major, said Native American Heritage Month is important “because racism is definitely still going on in America.”
She added some people “separate the past and now, but the past still affects people.”
Kianna Bauer, a senior sociology major, said she did not attend any of the on-campus events for Native American Heritage Month, but attended a Pow Wow with her grandmother at Bridgewater State University Nov. 20.
She said the month is “all about reparations and ending generational trauma.”
Bauer said she is currently taking a class on Native American cultures, but said FSU should offer more classes centered on Native Americans. “I feel like it’s something that everybody has the right to learn,” she said.
Vanessa Tannetta, a senior business management major, said FSU can help support local tribal communities by holding more events about Native American culture and advertise them more.
“It's really important to focus on everyone's culture - to make sure that everyone feels included on campus,” she said.