Native American Heritage Month kicks off with Cultural Indigenous Symposium

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Photo by Bryan Rindfleisch

The Critical Indigenous Symposium had a full day of activities.

Samantha Majhor, Marquette assistant professor of English, consistently instructs her Native American literature students to “bdihéč’iyapi” (pronounced “beh-dee-he-chee-yah-pee”), a Dakota command that loosely translates to “strengthen yourself” or “take heart.”

Majhor used the same phrase in her keynote lecture at the Cultural Indigenous Symposium Friday, Nov. 5, when she discussed the current state of cultural Indigenous studies and the future of the field. The CIS was one of several events taking place this November as part of the celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

It’s such an important concept for our students of color and our Native American students,” Majhor said. “It takes, sometimes, a lot of strength to represent yourself on campus and kind of be out there in your identity, and find ways to connect with your identity when sometimes those connections are not readily available or readily visible to everybody.”

For senior in the College of Education Rebecca DeBoer, Native American Heritage Month is a time for progress and finding those connections that Majhor mentioned.

“I think for me it’s a time for reflection and learning, not just a couple of things, but everything you can kind of learn about your Indigenous identity … it’s so ingrained around us and not many people know that,” DeBoer said.

DeBoer, a member of the Indigenous community, was one of five undergraduate students who presented research they conducted this past summer as a member of the Indigeneity Lab, an undergraduate research group that was funded for the purpose of learning more about Indigenous roots and connecting to the Native community.

“Just having this event and knowing that it’s going on, and connecting with not only alumni but also present students and adults who don’t even go to Marquette,” is something that Daniella Barrett, a junior in the College Arts & Sciences, co-president of Marquette Native American Student Association, is proud of.

Barrett is a member of North Carolina’s Eastern Band Cherokee Long Hair Clan. Being so far away from her tribe makes celebrating Native American Heritage Month even more of a priority for her. “I think this event is a good way to build community because, for me, I didn’t know that there were enough Native students on campus and I didn’t know there were Native events going on,” Barrett said.

Clare Camblin, a junior in the College of Communication and affiliated with Osage Nation Eagle Clan, said that the research she and her fellow students showcased at the CIS was indicative of how Marquette is improving its representation of Indigenous culture.

“I think the symposium today was also a way to show how we are positively moving forward with increasing awareness with Indigenous culture,” Camblin said.

And this event was just the beginning of all of the events that the Native American Student Association, or NASA, has planned for Native American Heritage Month. Will Egan-Waukau, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, co-president of NASA and member of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, touched on a few of the events that have been organized.

“We have the Menominee basketmakers from my tribe, they are going to come down and they have some kits made for basket weaving … It’s a very traditional practice to make these baskets, so it is a matter of preserving the culture,” Egan-Waukau said.

“Menominee Black Ash Basketmaking: Voices, Traditions and Preservation” will take place Nov. 22 from 11-12:30 p.m.  and 1-2 p.m.

Another event taking place to celebrate Native American Heritage Month is “Soup with Substance,” a gathering put on by Marquette Campus Ministry and the Indigeneity Lab. The meeting will be a discussion of the research that the student researchers have conducted and will aim to increase the understanding of Indigenous history and culture in the Milwaukee area.

DeBoer said that events celebrating Native American heritage are important because they gather ideas and information that promote the creation of connections between people.

“Building community, getting to know what’s happening in your area … just being allies for making sure stories are told and facts are shared to show that Indigenous people are still active in the community today,” DeBoer said is what makes the gatherings special.

As Native American Heritage Month continues, NASA and members of the Indigeneity Lab look forward to seeing new faces at their events.

“It is so nice to see so many faces, and people who are interested and enthusiastic about Indigenous history and culture,” Camblin said. “It’s just super cool to meet new people all the time and come together and just bond over this thing that is important to all of us.”

This story was written by Kim Cook. She can be reached at kimberly.cook@marquette.edu.

Check out the audio package for this story by Audio Producer Julianna Okosun.