By Regan Hewitt
November, in addition to being host to Peircegiving, is the month for Indigenous Nations at Kenyon (INK) to celebrate Kenyon’s inaugural Native American Heritage Month with a variety of events.
While Kenyon has recognized Native American Heritage Month since its national declaration in 1990, this is the first year there will be an active group of students engaging in Native American culture during the month.
Each week during November, there will be an event that celebrates Native American culture. The opening ceremony was Monday night, which included a reading from Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation Luci Tapahonso. The event caused the most excitement for INK president Lamenuel Loley ’17. “She’s from my nation, so it feels as if I’m bringing more of myself to Kenyon,” Loley, who has read Tapahonso’s work since he was a child, said.
Loley started INK in 2013 with help from faculty sponsors, such as Assistant Professor of History Patrick Bottiger and Robert P. Hubbard Professor in Poetry Janet McAdams.
“There are misconceptions about Native American life … and there have been many times when I’ve experienced misconceptions that could’ve been avoided if Kenyon had a more prominent native presence,” Loley said regarding why he created the organization. INK currently has an official membership of 40 to 50 students, but an active involvement of about 10 to 15.
When deciding on the events for Native American Heritage month, Bottiger said, “We asked ourselves: ‘How do we engage with Kenyon students?’” They concluded that Kenyon students would react positively to events that touched on popular majors and popular interests. “For example, Kenyon has a big English presence, so bringing in a poet will hopefully engage English-minded students,” Bottiger said.
Loley added, “This month is a celebration of native identity, so we really tried to incorporate different aspects of native identity, from poetry to dancing to just educating the public about native identity. We’re really trying to be interdisciplinary … in order to gain interest.”
The events include a screening of Native American films as well as a performance by the Yellow Bird Apache dancers, who danced at the London Olympics in 2012. INK members seemed particularly excited about the common-hour talk with Dr. Dan Wildcat, dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences at Haskell Indian Nations University. “[Dr. Wildcat] was extremely hard to get ahold of, so we’re excited that we finally got him,” INK historian and club member Amy Sheahan ’17 said.
INK hopes that this November is only the first year of many in which Kenyon recognizes and engages with native people. “We wanted to make a push, not just during Native American Heritage Month, but we’re working on a pow-wow here and all sorts of good stuff,” Bottiger said. Loley encourages anyone who is interested in native culture and issues to attend meetings and get involved with the events happening this month.
In looking toward the next few years, Sheahan said she hopes Native American Heritage Month stays focused on “bringing a native presence to campus … and making students aware that these are issues we should care about.” Loley said INK is already talking about events for next November.
Bottiger emphasized that the design of Native American Heritage Month was to create general awareness. “The real goal here is to show Kenyon students that native people exist and that they exist in many different circumstances and environments,” he said.