By Leigh Barber
As November sets in, Native American Heritage Month will take place around the nation. New College has its own plans to celebrate and pay respect to the history of the first inhabitants of North America. Professor of Native American Literature Gabrielle Vail and her students have organized several events to raise awareness throughout the month of November.
Although this is only the second year that events have taken place on campus, President George H. W. Bush founded Native American Heritage month in 1990. It was a bill that the president passed in order to provide a platform for Native Americans in the United States to share their culture, traditions, music and art. The aim was to give native people the opportunity to express their concerns and solutions to cultural misunderstandings to their own communities and officials in their local area. Bush wanted federal agencies to provide educational programs for their employees in the hopes of assisting them in improving relations between the government and Native Americans. In order to bring awareness to New College, Professor Vail and her team have organized many events that will educate interested students.
“There’s not a lot of information about contemporary Native American cultures being taught in the schools,” Vail said. “A lot of the students in my Native American Literature class don’t have a lot of knowledge and a lot of background so we’re hoping to share that with other students.”
However, this month is not only about a celebration, it is also a time of remembrance for the painful history that each tribal nation has endured. In the most recent proclamation made by President Barack Obama in 2013, he stated that he is committed to self-determination, the right of tribal governments to build and strengthen their own communities.
Throughout November, there will be a visit to the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, read-ins of Native American texts, films and other presentations on what Native American Literature students have found most interesting.
Professor Vail has teamed up with the Jane Bancroft Cook Library to create a book exhibit, featuring texts such as “The Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King, “Tracks” by Louise Erdrich, “Sacred Wilderness” by Susan Power, “A Yellow Raft in Blue Water” by Michael Dorris, “Fools Crow” by James Welch, “Griever” by Gerald Vizenor, “Almanac of the Dead” by Leslie Marmon Silko and several other insightful stories. During the exhibit, students who have volunteered to write brief synopses on each story will present their summaries to guests.
The Native American Literature students will also be hosting read-ins on Wednesday, Nov. 19 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Tuesday, Nov. 25 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. followed by a dinner of traditional dishes.
As well as read-ins, there will also be film showings throughout November. “Smoke Signals,” which was shown last year, will be played again on Nov. 12. “A Weave in Time” and “House Made of Dawn” will also be played to give more information on Navajo culture.
Plans have been made to take a field trip to Crystal River Archaeological State Park on Sunday, Nov 9. This historical landmark is a 61-acre pre-Columbian, Native American site that contains burial mounds, temples, a plaza area and a midden. Thousands of Native Americans visit the site every year, and this year students will be able to explore the site and learn more about the culture and traditions of pre-Columbian Native America. Students who are interested in participating in this trip should email Professor Vail.
Learning about Native American culture is important because it further educates everyone, even students who are of Native American descent. “I have some students in the class who are from Native American heritage,” Vail said. “Some of them are rediscovering their culture through the class.”
Vail, her students and the rest of their team all have high hopes for this month. They are hoping to educate Novo Collegians in an engaging way about integral parts of the nation’s history.