MSUM celebrates American Indian Heritage Month

Spiritual leader JR Fox said the sweat lodge provides “a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical experience” all in one. “It’s kind of a cross between going see a psychiatrist, going to a health spa and going to a church.”

Spiritual leader JR Fox said the sweat lodge provides “a spiritual, mental, emotional and physical experience” all in one. “It’s kind of a cross between going see a psychiatrist, going to a health spa and going to a church.”

Throughout the month of November, American Indian Student Association, their adviser, Jody Steile and various community groups have organized a series of events for students and people in the community to experience the culture of American Indians.

For the AISA president, Cera Swiftwater, a criminal justice junior, the events bring normalcy to her life at MSUM. Having grown up at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, roughly 10 hours from MSUM, Swiftwater gets homesick with the lack of opportunities to practice her culture.

“Being here, it’s diverse, but not Native American diverse, and so I come from a reservation where things like this are normal,” Swiftwater said. “Everything that we’re doing these couple of weeks I do on a daily basis.”

Sweats are something Swiftwater does weekly when at Pine Ridge Reservation.  A sweat lodge has been built between the Sustainability House and the Center for Business.

Laidmean “J.R.” Fox Jr., a Spirit Lake Nation spiritual leader, has over 30 years of lodge construction experience. Since constructing the lodge on Wednesday, people have been able to participate in sweats, which Fox explains as a cleansing opportunity for natives and non-natives.

Swiftwater said it’s exciting to have the sweats and other events throughout November because she doesn’t have to go home to practice her culture, and she can teach others.

“It makes it a whole lot easier, and it makes me feel so much better bringing that awareness to other people,” she said. “We’re letting them know, ‘Yes we’re here and we do do this.’”

Both hands-on workshops and listening events are integrated throughout the events said Swiftwater. The result is a mixture of speakers and participation from the audience that creates a welcoming atmosphere for people who want to learn.

The Opening Pipe Ceremony, which took place last Thursday allowed Fox to teach how and why people use the pipe through stories and through participation.

“I was looking forward to the opening pipe ceremony because it’s something I grew up with,” Swiftwater said. “So it’s nice to see other people learn, because some people have such a like an image of the things we do.”

Traditional Native handgames is one of the events in November Swiftwater will lead. For her it is a hobby comparable to basketball, her favorite hobby that is played at many of the tribal colleges that have their own teams and practices.

“It’s something that I just love doing … Not being able to play it is kind of like, that’s just one thing I really missed,” Swiftwater said. “So, every chance I get I try to bring it.”

Swiftwater stresses all events are free and open to everyone, with refreshments available at some events.

“You don’t have to feel out casted or anything because you don’t know,” Swiftwater said. “We want you guys to be aware. We want you to know. We want you to learn. And at the same time it’s who we are and we want to let people know who we are and we’re here.”

BY JESSICA JASPERSON
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