Julisa Lopez, a Social Pyschology PhD candidate, delivers the keynote address for the Native American Heritage Month Closing Ceremony in the Union Wednesday. Sydney Hastings-Wilkins/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Native American Student Association and the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs hosted a ceremony Wednesday night to conclude Native American Heritage Month. Multiple events were held to educate attendees about Indigenous issues and celebrate cultural traditions. 

Beginning with a community meal, the closing celebration featured a variety of Native foods, and was followed by a presentation by Rackham student Julisa Lopez.

Lopez’s presentation outlined her research as a member of the The Research for Indigenous Social Action and Equity Center about the marginalization of Native people. 

“I like to think about the society we live in today, and how Native people are temporarily omitted in contemporary society, and how this omission in our current society leads to different consequences for Natives,” Lopez said.

Lopez discussed her research on the perception of racism against Native people with specific reference to red face and stereotypical portrayals of Native culture. She also presented data about murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls that demonstrated how the omission of Native people from the media results in apathy toward their marginalization. 

“When a group doesn’t exist anymore, you don’t have to deal with their oppression,” Lopez said. 

Lopez said she hopes that students and faculty are educated on the history of Indigenous people. Her presentation was prefaced by a land acknowledgement that recognized the Anishinaabeg people, whose land the University of Michigan was built upon.  

“Education here was started through boarding schools, which (were) stripping Native children from their families and from their culture,” Lopez said. “So recognizing that history first and foremost, and building trustful relationships with Native people, is a really important step on the path of education systems.”  

Rackham student Alanna Hurd said she hopes the University will implement more direct change with input by Native communities. 

“I really think it comes down to taking decisive action based on what Native American students are recommending,” Hurd said. 

LSA senior Solomon Milner, co-chair of the Native American Student Association, said he would like to see the University fulfill the recommendations submitted by the Native American Student Task Force committee in 2018. The recommendations included developing an orientation program specifically for Indigenous students and establishing a Fort Meigs Treaty Center to increase awareness of Indigenous history. 

Milner said the Native American Student Association exists to offer support and a community for the Native students, which encompassed less than 1% of the student body as of the fall 2022 semester. 

“On campus in these classes, usually we’re the only Native students in the class,” Milner said. “That’s what we’re here for. And we really want to be a space of unity, of collective access and connection.” 

Milner said he hopes that students are aware of Native students and issues on campus. 

“We’re still here, and we never left,” Milner said. “We’re stronger than ever.”

Daily Staff Reporter Josh Sinha can be reached at jsinha@umich.edu.