Celebrating America’s oldest cultures

Across the University of Idaho campus, a month-long celebration of America’s oldest cultures burst into the spotlight during November — a reminder of a people who will not soon be forgotten.

The nationally recognized Native American Heritage Month — a cultural recognition declared by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 — celebrates the rich history of Native tribes across the United States and beyond, said Sydel Samuels, director of the UI Native American Student Center.

“It’s an opportunity to reflect on the indigenous people who provide a lot of history and culture and background and knowledge and ways of being to what makes up this country,” Samuels said.

Samuels said the more than 550 federally recognized tribes across the country are given a chance every November to showcase what sets them apart. The countless rituals, ceremonies and practices offer a wealth of knowledge for those who may not be educated on Native culture.

The slate of learning opportunities for students and staff planned throughout the month, Samuels said, are organized and led primarily by students specifically for the UI community.

“It’s not only governmental,” she said. “It’s important that we give the opportunity to University of Idaho students, staff and faculty just a little bit of time learning about tribal communities.”

The Native American Student Center kicked off the month Wednesday with lessons in basket weaving taught by CarylDene Swan and Leanne Campbell.

Leslie Kiebert | Argonaut
An older participant of the Tutxinmepu Powwow dances in the Kibbie Dome Sunday afternoon.

Later in the week, UI will introduce “Many Nations, One Family,” a workshop focusing on the many differences between tribal cultures and the difficulties those differences can present within communities.

“Our country is changing. Our environment is changing. It’s important to broaden your background and experiences with different types of people,” Samuels said. It’s important to be diverse and understand diversities.”

Samuels said events such as these, as well as the keynote delivered by Manulani Aluli Meyer Nov. 27, can help motivate Native students who may otherwise be preoccupied to become more involved in the Native Center and their heritage.

While she said student involvement within the Native American Student Center has not seen any drastic changes since she started at UI in 2013, there is always room to invigorate the 1 percent of UI students who come from Native cultures.

“We have a large group of students who participate, but I definitely think we need to grow,” she said. “I think we’re making progress, but there is still a lot that can be done.”

The month will conclude with a discussion by UI professor Dylan Hedden-Nicely, regarding federal law conflicts in Indian Country.

Samuels said while it remains vital to involve Native American students to become more involved in their culture, the month can also serve as a learning opportunity for those who may not identify or relate to the culture.

For the other 99 percent of UI students, Native American Heritage month is a chance to grow and enhance cultural understanding.

“Giving respect and consideration for yourself and for your learning, it’s important that you acknowledge those different experiences,” she said. “That’s part of the reason why you go into higher education, expanding your understanding, not just in your major. We hope that when you leave UI, you go beyond Moscow and beyond Idaho.”

Brandon Hill can be reached at arg-arts@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill   

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