Courtesy of Sophia Filipof.

Each year, the University of Michigan’s Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and Native American Student Association honor Indigenous People during the month of November by hosting events that bring awareness to the community’s culture and history. 

This year’s kick-off took place Wednesday evening with a speech from Brown University Assistant Professor Adrienne Keene. Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is an activist working to eliminate stereotypes and shed light on various Native American cultures. Keene is also a writer, scholar, blogger and podcast host. 

Keene explained the goal of her activism is to foster more accurate media representations of Native Americans so future generations of Native American children can see themselves in a more positive light. On her blog, Native Appropriations, Keene frequently discusses the misrepresentation of Native Americans in addition to her book, Notable Native People, which showcases how to effectively represent Native cultures.

Keene then discussed how Native Americans are represented in the media today, saying people often have an outdated view of the culture. 

“Most Americans, when they are asked to think of a Native American … they think about feathered headdresses, black and white sepia toned Hollywood stereotypes,” Keene said. “Not really any contemporary images, not really any women or Two Spirit people (or) queer people.” 

Despite her criticisms, Keene did acknowledge that representations of Native cultures have greatly improved, citing the example of the show Reservation Dogs. The show, a dark comedy about teenagers in Oklahoma, has a largely Indigenous cast and writer’s room. 

“For the first time ever, for Halloween this year … it makes me a little choked up to think about, these little Indigenous ones (who) are never going to grow up in a world where they don’t have a TV show that represents them,” Keene said.

Keene said there needs to be better methods of teaching students about Indigenous people in school, because the current curriculum does not extend into the culture and lives of modern-day Native Americans.

“The reality is that 87% of state-level history standards fail to cover Native people in a post-1900 context, which is absolutely ridiculous,” Keene said. 

Keene concluded with a discussion of the relationship between Native American culture and the land. She quoted Humboldt State University professor Cutcha Baldy to emphasize the importance of recognizing that Americans are living on stolen land.

“The more work we do with decolonization and reconciliation, the more you start to realize  there is no reconciliation without the return of stolen land, it doesn’t work,” Keene said. 

She called upon institutions to begin the process of returning land and said this is a crucial step in creating a better future for Native Americans.   

“(What) I hope that universities are thinking about is not … ‘how would that work?’, but more of the ‘why aren’t we trying, or what could we try?’” Keene said.

LSA junior Zoi Crampton, a co-coordinator for the event, said that the voices of Native Americans need to be heard. Crampton said this is especially true because of what she believes is the University’s failure to do its part in returning land and giving recognition to the communities it is from. The University is built on land that belonged to the Anishinaabeg people, including Odawa, Ojibwe, and Boodewadomi, as well as the Wyandot people.

“Part of what we’re trying to accomplish within Native American Heritage Month and within the Native American Student Association is trying to get the ball moving on that and just … holding the University accountable for something they already said that they were going to do,” Crampton said.

This story has been updated to reflect that a quote cited by Keene during the event was originally from Cutcha Baldy.


Daily News Contributor Sophia Filipof can be reached at sfilipof@umich.edu.