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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Month of events will honor Native heritage

    A colorful, month-long celebration of Native American heritage kicked off on Friday with traditional songs, dances and prayers.

    Native American Heritage Month includes an annual series of events that celebrates Native traditions and influences, and the university is bringing the celebration to campus.

    Carmenlita Chief, a graduate assistant for Native American Student Affairs, said she is looking forward to sharing the rich diversity of Native American tribes.

    “[We want to] focus the campus lens on broadening the awareness of contemporary issues of our native people,” Chief said. “We’re trying to put the spotlight on the fact that there’s a very rich diversity in the nature of different tribes, when people tend to just lump them together.”

    Chief said that the month seeks to highlight the contemporary challenges that many tribes face today, as well as the achievements of Native American leaders.

    “It’ll be interesting for people to be introduced to Native Americans who are successful in life and don’t just go off of stereotypes,” said Taylor Susan, a NASA board member.

    Susan said she ultimately wants students who aren’t of Native American heritage to gain an understanding of the culture and traditions of Native American people.

    On Nov. 14, NASA will hold a speaker forum to highlight the achievements of Native American leaders.

    Speakers will include LuAnn Leonard from the Arizona Board of Regents, Katherine Benally from the Navajo Nation Council, Stephen Roe Lewis from the Gila River Indian Community and Walter Phelps from the Navajo Nation Council.

    “We hold onto our traditions and our cultures very closely,” Susan said. Native American Heritage Month aims to help students acknowledge and balance their cultural backgrounds and their life in modern day society.

    Susan added she hopes that by sharing Native American culture and diversity with the community, students will gain a deeper understanding about what it means to be a Native American.

    “We work to provide legitimate programs that help the Native American presence on campus,” said Byron Sloan, a NASA board member. Sloan estimated that there are about 1,300 Native American students on campus, which is about 3 percent of the student body.

    In Arizona, there are currently 22 federally recognized Native American tribes, and each tribe has its own traditions, Susan said.

    “[We want to provide] a cultural understanding of what Native culture looks like and what issues are at the forefront,” Sloan said, adding that students will be able to recognize what real issues look like in the Native American community.

    During last year’s Native American Heritage Month, the events NASA hosted to celebrate Native American culture included a concert and fashion show on the UA Mall. This year’s events will run throughout the month and include panel discussions, traditional dances and films.

    “By the end of this month,” Susan said, “I want to have educated others to understand where we come from and what happened to us in the past.”

    Follow Casey Knox @Knox_Casey

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