Section: Features

Kenyon hosts Native American Heritage month celebrations

Kenyon hosts Native American Heritage month celebrations

A wide range of groups on campus came together to organize events in honor of Native American Heritage month this November, including a reading and workshop by Onondaga author Eric Gansworth, a screening of the documentary “Two Spirits” and a discussion of Qwo-Li Driskill’s book Asegi Stories: Cherokee Queer and Two-Spirit Memory.

On Monday, Nov. 12, Gansworth read to a packed Cheever Room. Before the reading, Gansworth explained that when he started out he would frequently send his writing to the Kenyon Review, with little hope that it would be accepted. “[The Kenyon Review was a] mythical place. Kinda like my Hogwarts,” Gansworth said. In honor of his relationship with the publication, Gansworth began his reading with a poem titled “Engagement,” which was his first work published in the Kenyon Review. He read two other pieces: an incomplete work that he described as “a memoir in verse” about his childhood on a Tuscarora Nation reservation and a short story that will be published early next year. In his reading, Gansworth used personal narrative and numerous pop culture references to address a wide range of topics including, poverty, racism, sibling dynamics and superpowers.

Following his reading, Gansworth answered questions about his use of comic book figures, his different art forms and writing practice.  The event had many sponsors: the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), the Kenyon Review, the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the Hubbard Chair Fund and Indigenous Nations at Kenyon (INK). 

The following day, Gansworth held a workshop for eight students from 9:40 to 11:00 a.m. in Peirce Lounge. During the event, he talked about song lyrics and personal methodology.  “[The workshop was] directing us towards ways we could find our own writing processes, he was able to quickly communicate a genuine interest in everyone’s work,” Claire Oleson ’19, who attended the workshop, said. Teahelahn Keithrafferty ’19, co-president of INK, encouraged INK to reach out to Gansworth  after reading his book, Smoke Dancing, in Gender and Sexuality in Native American Literature (ENGL 389), taught by Professor of English Janet McAdams. She described the workshop as “intimate” and focused on developing students’ personal voice.

The ODEI lead two events that explored the intersection between LGBTQ+ and Indigenous identity. The office hosted a documentary screening of the film “Two-Spirits” on Nov. 13. The film examined the cultural significance of two-spirit identity in Navajo Culture. In addition, on Thursday, November 29 in Lentz House 104, there was discussion about Qwo-Li Driskill’s book.

Timothy Bussey, assistant director of ODEI, led the book discussion. He explained the importance of including narratives from different Indigenous nations: “There is a lot of diversity within the two-spirit community, since this isn’t a monolithic identity,” Bussey said. Prior to the event, free copies of the book were distributed in hard copy and via Kenyon’s website.

During the event, students engaged with the book’s discussion of the effects of European colonization on two-spirit identity. Bussey explained that ODEI was eager to participate in and support November’s events.

To Bussey, the importance of the intersection was clear. “I don’t see how our office could not be involved,” he said. Looking to the future, Bussey hopes to see conversations about queer and trans Indigenous identities continue beyond Native American Heritage month and into the upcoming Queer and Trans Studies Conference, which will occur in April.

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