Lawrence celebrates Native American Heritage Month

To celebrate Native American Heritage Month, the Lawrence University Native Americans Organization (LUNA) worked with the Diversity and Intercultural Center (DNIC) and Student Organization for University Programming (SOUP)  to put on a virtual event on Nov. 12 — a dialogue open to students, faculty and staff about Indigeneity. 

President of LUNA, junior Jessica Hopkins, played a major role in planning the event. Her main goal for the event was to create discussions on Indigenous culture and struggles.

“It’s about being a Native student on-campus and in larger America and the different stigmas that we have to deal with,” Hopkins said. “It is about building relationships between not just white students, but other minority students to build that bridge of shared experience through being at Lawrence. We are trying to build a better community for future Native students.”

The event started with a Kahoot game, then the dialogue facilitators were introduced. From there, participants were split into breakout rooms for discussions that lasted 15 – 20 minutes.

In these breakout rooms, students were asked these questions: What are your experiences or preconceived notions about Indigeneity? What knowledge or experience do you have with Indigenous culture, history or fairs? What brought you to this event today, and what does Indigeneity mean to you?

After discussing the questions, the participants were brought out of the breakout rooms and shown two videos published by the Teen Vogue YouTube channel: “Six  Misconceptions About Native American People” and “Native American Girls Describe the REAL History Behind Thanksgiving.” 

These videos were shown as educational tools for awareness and to inspire dialoguesduring the event. Program coordinator for the DNIC and co-president of CODA, sophomore Malcolm Davis, was part of the planning team for the virtual event. He believes these videos were important to remind people to educate themselves and understand the history of Indigenous cultures. 

“After watching the videos, I thought about how what being Indigenous means to each person is important to show the struggles we each have in common,” Davis said. “It’s important because I think the Lawrence community could be more educated about Indigenous culture and Native American history in general, being that our campus is on the Menominee Nation. There needs to be more recognition.” 

After being shown the videos, participants then went back into breakout rooms to discuss another set of questions: How did the videos make you feel? Were any of your previous ideas changed, challenged or validated? Have the discussions today changed how you will think or act beyond today?

Participants were then brought out of the breakout rooms, and the event wrapped up with a video provided by the Bear Clan Singers and Dancers. 

Further speaking on the importance of the event, Hopkins explained that this was the main event Lawrence put on for Native American Heritage Month, and through this event, LUNA wants to further recognition for the organization and continue to grow awareness of Indigenous cultures and struggles. 

“We want to bring awareness to things that are going on in the Indigenous community as well as what’s going on with students on campus,” Hopkins said. “It’s really hard being a minority student, but it’s even harder as an Indigenous student because we deal with covered up history [and] historical trauma, and then you come to a campus that doesn’t really acknowledge you. This event is important to build community for Indigenous people and allies to foster communication and to build support between students, faculty and staff.” 

In addition to this virtual event, outside of Native American Heritage Month, LUNA is an active organization that works year-round to further this building of community. They meet every week on Tuesdays as a support group for Native American students and as a place for allies to learn more about Native American students, cultures and issues. 

Further emphasizing the group’s efforts, Hopkins explained that, in addition to this one event, further education and awareness is wanted and necessary for people to understand the importance of Indigeneity. 

“How many conversations have we had about Indigeneity since we painted the mural? How many speakers of Native American heritage have we had on-campus?… How many people actually know what Thanksgiving is and what it means for Native American students?…”

Hopkins continued, “Students of Lawrence, celebrate Indigeneity every day. You don’t have to be Native to celebrate Indigeneity; you can support Native voices and educate and research Native American issues that are going on right now.” Hopkins further said, “So much is going on right now, with coronavirus affecting Native Sovereignty, affecting tribal health; there’s so many issues that a lot of people don’t know about. Keep educating yourself because you can be an advocate and use your voice.”