Indigenous Awareness Week moves online

Indigenous Awareness Week at New College was planned for the week of March 30 to April 5. The initial programming had been introduced in an email from the Student Event Team (SET) team on March 10 with an offer for students to attend a free field trip to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum at the Big Cypress Indian Reservation in Hendry County, Fla. Currently operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the museum opened in 1997. 

Second-year Gabriela Ott was the main organizer of the events through the Student Activities & Campus Engagement (SA[U]CE), but stated that the idea was brought to the attention of SAUCE by second year Tony Opio. Ott also wanted to recognize the other RAs who helped her along with Opio who were Jamie Christos and Bri Hyvarinen. This is the first Indigenous Awareness week through SAUCE that the school has had. Workshops and events in the original planning that could not be translated to an online format were guest speaker Brain Zepeda and a vigil for missing and murdered indigenous women. 

“For the vigil, I wanted to offer ways for students to recognize the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women (MMIW),” Ott said. “This included educational material, articles which visually showed the MMIW community, and art created in response.”

Professor of Anthropology and Director of the New College Public Archaeology Lab Uzi Baram contributed to the educational media provided in the emails.

“The Indigenous heritage of the land on which New College sits has not been acknowledged,” Baram said. “By building up awareness, raising consciousness of the active and engaged historical research and memories of the Seminole and Miccosukee peoples we can honor their legacies and become stewards of lands that belong to the Native peoples of Nose of the Deer (one of the Seminole terms for the peninsula) on Turtle Island.”

Virtual programming for the awareness week began on April 6 as the school found some footing in a time without boundaries. The SET team sent out every email on the students list. The first email sent to the student list included videos of Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Talks by three Indigenous people with content warnings and thematic elements of the talks accompanying the videos. 

The second email is about a film called “Rhymes for Young Ghouls,” which explores the history of residential schools. The last residential school in the United States closed in 1973 and the last one in Canada in 1996. In Canada, Sept. 30 is known as Orange Shirt Day as a day of raising awareness for the generational trauma caused by the schools. Orange Shirt Day gets its name from the experience of Phyllis Webstad who is a survivor of a residential school. This event began in 2013. As of 2020, there has been no official day of surface-level acknowledgement from the U.S. government. 

The third email sent provided reading material in lieu of the in-person workshop about cultural appropriation and disclaimers about discussing cultural appropriation and how people knowingly and unknowingly participate in it. 

“Education, learning from past mistakes, and overcoming discomfort/guilt are important steps to being better allies to Native peoples.”

Topics included, but were not limited to, mascots, costumes, dream catchers, Disney and the use of sage. At the end of the email, there are links that help guide discussions about cultural appropriation. The process of asking questions and receiving answers that exists in a physical workshop became an individual experience in the online format. Perhaps this format better serves the mental health of people who might have been expected to answer questions, specifically about a person’s newly discovered discomfort, when personal research using previously-made online tools can achieve similar results. Professor Jessica Young planned to lead this workshop. 

The fourth email included a more in-depth look at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum with a disclaimer that the museum had been closed due to COVID-19. 

The museum is opened for the work of limited staff. There are checks on the campus to monitor the temperature so that the collections are safe. Visitor services and development manager of the museum Carrie Dilley said that limited staff are still working on projects at the museum. 

“One project that staff continue to work on during the closure is transcribing oral histories within the collection,” Dilley said. “The purpose of transcribing allows for better search capabilities and accessibility to this valuable collection. The transcription of oral histories, with public permissions, are also being used to support the Tribe’s position on important and complex projects such as Everglades restoration.” 

Ott asked in the email about Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum for anyone who is able to donate to the museum because of the economic hardships of the quarantine.

The final email was sent on April 10 and included videos provided by Professor Baram. The resources included history and building techniques for pre-industrial tools, such as cord made out of palm leaf fibers, cord made out of Spanish moss and atlatls which are tools used to launch large spears. Baram is teaching a course titled “Archaeology of Florida” this semester. He emphasized ways in which he works to decolonize archeological approaches through having his students engage in the living culture, policies and writings of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and transforming anthropological terminology such as archaeological sites into heritage locales and artifacts into belongings. 

“Awareness that we are uninvited guests on the lands of the Seminole and Miccosukee peoples is not an easy task,” Baram said. “Seeing ourselves as settler-colonists can lead to a better sense of the responsibility and obligation to honor and respect the heritage beneath our feet”.

This is the first year that this week of awareness has existed at New College. While it did not occur in the capacity initially hoped, there is hope that the week’s programming will continue to grow in the coming years. With the materials presented, it is clear that while the awareness week is a strong beginning, the long-term goal is an awareness and engagement with the past, present and future that exists not once or twice a year, but in daily mindfulness. Ott said that she hopes to have more events this fall, specifically November which is Native American Heritage Month. 

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