Students celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Week

by Eileen Brady | 10/19/17 2:05am

The Native American community at the College celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day last Monday, Oct. 9. The celebration, planned by Native Americans at Dartmouth, began at midnight with a drumming circle on the Green and the lighting of a sacred fire, according to Kianna Burke ’12, the Native American Program interim director.

A rally protesting the celebration of Columbus Day and celebrating Native culture was also held on Monday afternoon. Events such as film screenings, meals and workshops were held throughout the following week in celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Week, a week-long celebration created last year by Burke.

The midnight drumming circle is an event that has taken place for many years at Dartmouth, according to NAD member Samantha Maltais ’18.

She noted that the event is something that most Native students she knows try to attend, especially considering that it is many prospective Native students’ first exposure to the Native community at Dartmouth, as it takes place during the College’s Native Fly-In program each year.

This year, the Black Hawk Singers, an Abenaki drum group, came to campus to kick off the Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Week celebrations with songs and social dancing, Burke said. Attendance at the event was around 200 to 300 people, she said.

On Monday, the Native community also held a rally at the Collis Center on the Green. NAD member Phoebe Hannan ’20, who attended both the drumming circle and rally, explained that the rally was to protest the celebration of Columbus Day in addition to issues like public education and the lack of Native representation in the media. Hannan added that the rally was intended to open a dialogue about these issues on campus. At the rally, speakers included Native American studies professors, students and community members, she said.

“We tried to make [the demonstration] conversational,” Hannan said. “We didn’t want to make it seem like we were attacking the rest of the student body about this particular day. We’ve been trying to make it more conversational while keeping our points direct and our thoughts clear. We’re not changing our opinions, just the tones in which they’re received.”

The rally also included 15 minutes of silence in remembrance of the lives lost in the acquisition of the land on which Dartmouth sits and the lives of Native alumni and students lost in recent years, Hannan said.

Roughly 40 people attended the rally this year, a decrease from past years’ attendance which reached nearly 100 people, Burke said. Both Hannan and Burke largely attributed that drop to Monday’s rain showers. Throughout the day on Monday, a sacred fire burned behind the Native American House, a new feature of the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day added this year, proposed by Hannan.

“I brought [the idea of having a sacred fire] forth because in other events and conferences when people come together in my tribe, you’re supposed to have a sacred fire burning to show that you people are coming together and your ancestors are communicating with each other,” Hannan said. “I thought it would be appropriate because it’s not something that’s us against the world or us against the rest of campus, it’s more like us coming together with other people to spread this idea and promote change.”

Hannan, who tended to the fire from its lighting at midnight until 9:30 a.m. on Monday, added that in adding the sacred fire to the celebrations, an effort was also made to keep with Abenaki traditions since the College sits on territory that Abenaki people once claimed. Abenaki student Mali-Agat Obomsawin ’18 led the opening prayer and shared information about Abenaki traditions.

“We wanted to make it inclusive while keeping with Abenaki tradition, so people could pray around the fire the way they wanted to but the fire was kept up in the Abenaki way,” Hannan said.

In accordance with Abenaki tradition, the fire was fed with tobacco and cedar throughout the night, she added.

Aside from the events on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Week programming was planned by the Native American Program. Events included conversations, film screenings and workshops, including a presentation by Margaret Jacobs ’08, a local indigenous artist.

Last year, this celebration was called Native American Heritage Week, Burke said.

“We changed [the name of the celebration] to Indigenous Peoples’ Week because I think it better reflects the celebration that we have on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and we’re hoping for it to expand to all indigenous identities instead of just Native American,” Burke said.

Burke emphasized the importance of recognizing the holiday on campus, especially considering Dartmouth’s history. The College was founded on the principle of educating Native students but failed to adhere to that mission until former College President John G. Kemeny recommitted Dartmouth to the goal of educating Native students in the 1970s, according to Burke.

Maltais noted that visibility is an important facet of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration on campus.

“It’s so important to show that Native people are still here and that we are being educated at the same ivory tower that was initially created to ‘civilize’ us,” she said.