By Maureen Mcmullen
Confronting cultural stereotypes is a frustrating and frequent part of criminal justice junior Cera Swiftwater’s life.
“A lot of people don’t even know (American Indian students) are here,” said Swiftwater, who grew up in the Pine Ridge Reservation, an Oglala Lakota reservation in South Dakota. “And if they do know about us, they think, ‘Oh, you must live in a teepee.’ Actually, no, I live in south Moorhead.”
November marks American Indian Heritage Month, a national initiative to not only dispel stereotypes like these, but also celebrate and raise awareness of American Indian cultures.
“We’re not stuck in the past,” said Darcy Smith, a cultural anthropology senior and president of the American Indian Student groups and departments to organize events throughout November, starting with an opening pipe ceremony in the library today at 10:30 a.m.
“I just hope we have a good turnout and that people learn something about the different Native peoples of America by attending our events,” Smith said.
“For example, if they attend the women’s powwow dance clothing event; maybe they went to a powwow and they didn’t know what the heck was going on, maybe they could learn why the women were wearing a specific kind of dress.”
Smith said she’s most looking forward to an event coordinated with Dragons AfterDark, which she hopes will offer students a more light-hearted perspective of American Indian cultures.
“Sometimes people in class will say, ‘I thought you were so serious,’” said Smith. “We joke and laugh, but in class we might be quiet. Some of the things we want to do for Dragons AfterDark is to show our fun side; we’re doing handgames, which is a guessing game, or a round dance, which is a social thing.”
Other events will include an open practice with Buffalo River Singers Drum Group, speakers such as Michelle Eagleman-Bointy, project director for the Center for American Indian Community Health, a performance by Native American hip-hop artist Mic Jordan.
Last November, students had the opportunity to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony, a well-attended event hosted in the lodge between the business center and sustainability house.
The structure, which became a permanent fixture in 2013, is covered with blankets to facilitate an inter-tribal sweat lodge experience.
This year, students will again have a chance to participate in sweat lodge experiences, purification ceremonies which aim to cleanse participants’ bodies and clear their minds of stress and negativity.
“For Native students, it’s for us to come together; it’s kind of like a piece of home,” said Smith.
“It helps for those that are getting homesick. They could go to a sweat and feel better. On one hand the ceremony happens so that the rest of the school can learn about it, on the other hand it’s so Native students feel more at home when they have something like that here.”
Though events like the sweat lodge focus on American Indian traditions, members of AISA emphasized that everyone is invited to participate and learn.
“Don’t be scared to come; we welcome everybody, we’re not going to ridicule anybody,” said Swiftwater.
“We talk everybody through everything regarding the sweat lodges or the dancing, and nobody’s going to think you’re stupid.
“The whole reason why we do this is so that people are comfortable with it; so that they know better than to ask somebody ‘Do you live in a teepee?’”
For more information about November’s events, contact Darcy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jody Steile, AISA Advisor, at email@example.com.