The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and the Native American Student Association hosted a closing ceremony on Tuesday night to conclude the University of Michigan’s Native American Heritage Month celebration. The closing ceremony, which was the only in-person event for Native American Heritage Month, hosted a range of presentations and discussions about various issues pertaining to Indigenous communities.
The event was led by NASA co-chairs LSA junior John-Solomon Milner and Art & Design junior Zoi Crampton.They opened the event with a brief recap of the month’s events, including a presentation about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women from historian and writer Heather Bruegl.
Milner said they appreciated finally being able to be with attendees in-person and were grateful for the opportunity to host the event at the Michigan Union.
“I think it’s really amazing that we’re able to have these conversations under the umbrella of the University,” Milner said. “Sometimes it feels like the University doesn’t really care about us. But sometimes you think about how far we’re coming. I guess it feels a little bit more hopeful.”
After the presentation, Crampton hosted a smudging ceremony, a ritual in which sacred medicine is burned to cleanse and purify the soul.
“That was actually the first smudging ceremony that’s ever happened in the Union,” Milner said. “They finally approved us and had to turn off the smoke alarms just so that we could smudge, which is really important to us for cleansing and medicinal purposes. That feels like a step in the right direction.”
Jaime Fuentes, a graduate student research assistant at Michigan Medicine and NASA secretary, explained how participating in the month’s events showed his passion for Indigenous issues. Fuentes specifically cited the previous night’s discussion on sustainability and the LANDBACK movement as evidence for this passion.
“(Attending the events) demonstrated my connection to the land and what that means to me as an Indigenous person,” Fuentes said. “It means that I have a connection to this Earth.”
Fuentes also expressed a desire for the University to provide more support and representation for Indigenous students in academia and surrounding Indigenous communities.
“There are a lot of tribes around this area,” Fuentes said. “If we did more outreach as a university, maybe we could recruit more people who want to be (in) academia and change the landscape of diversity.”
Social Work student Katy Martinez attended the event and said she felt the events hosted for Native American Heritage Month were important in bringing representation for the Native community to campus.
“We (all) want to feel represented,” Martinez said. “I identify as Latina, and I know that having Latinx Heritage Month was really nice. So I imagine that we share that in common, (wanting representation), with people that are Native American.”
Social Work student Heidi Schleif also attended the event and said she felt it was necessary to facilitate a space for the Indigenous community on campus to express themselves.
“I think it’s really important to be learning about different cultures and creating spaces where students of different identities can really celebrate who they are and feel like they’re not just welcome, but really celebrated,” Schleif said. “I’m glad there is a space for Native and Indigenous students to have.”
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