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Month aims to break American Indian stereotypes

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Darren Thompson feels the music.

"I don't think of myself as hearing or playing the music," said Thompson, a College of Arts & Sciences senior and member of the Ojibwe American Indian tribe. "I feel it, (which) is something that defines our culture. We value expressing our emotions inside of us with our music."

Thompson, who plays the wooden flute, will perform Nov. 17 as part of the monthlong American Indian Heritage Celebration, which began Monday and continues through Nov. 21.

Pam Peters, assistant dean for intercultural programs, said American Indian members of the Marquette community played a vital role in planning the celebration.

"There is a lot of misunderstanding about the American Indian culture, so I thought it was important to bring together the people of that culture and let them guide the events," Peters said.

Events were planned by a committee, which Peters chaired,that comprised of students, faculty, staff members and administrators who were interested in the project. They suggested the celebration be monthlong; last year's celebration was in the spring and lasted only two weeks. This year, the celebration is being held in conjunction with the national celebration for an entire month, Peters said.

"I hope that people come and that the events help them break away from some of the stereotypes there are against American Indians," Peters said, "and that they can begin to see them just like they see anybody else."

The main problem, Peters said, was that the American Indian community was fighting stereotypes.

"That is why the celebration is so important because one of the goals is to break those stereotypes," Peters said. "I thought it was important to hear the different voices and what they wanted. I did learn a lot about how when people work together how much can be accomplished."

The theme of the celebration, "A Time for Healing," refers to abuse suffered by American Indians at the hands of other Americans. Although the abuse has largely ended, the scars from the past remain.

However, many Americans are not aware of the history.

"Whether or not people know, the historical relationship between the colonists and Europeans hasn't been the most pleasant one," Thompson said.

But the American Indians are resilient and determined, Thompson said. He wants his audience to know that "we are still here. Although we may have suffered some tragedies, we're still continuing to develop ourselves historically, culturally, socially, politically, according to modern times."

Thompson has already made plans for his concert.

"I am presenting the uniqueness of native music," Thompson said regarding the American Indian flute music he plays. "Historically and culturally, it means that a lot of culturally defined music seems to create a sense of identity or serenity in all those who listen.

David Overstreet, an adjunct professor of anthropology and an expert on American Indian history, said American Indian culture is worth studying.

"The fact that there are any Native Americans groups remaining, with remnants of their own cultural identities, is quite frankly amazing, given their history of post-contact," Overstreet said.

This article was published in The Marquette Tribune on October 25, 2005.,”James A. Molnar”

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