The University of Michigan’s office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs held its 11th event for Native American Heritage Month this year, sponsoring a food drive with the American Indian Health and Family Services on Tuesday afternoon. The drive took place at the AIHFS community center in Detroit and was sponsored by the Native American Student Association. The event marked the first collaboration between the University and AIHFS.

AIHFS is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and provides medical services in the greater Detroit area including women’s care maternal health, diabetes care and substance abuse counseling. The clinic is open to all, and caters specifically towards uninsured individuals identifying as American Indian/Alaska native. The center also offers outreach programs and provides community-centered activities such as a garden, a kitchen and cultural events.

The Native American Student Association contributed eight turkeys to the center, where AIHFS staff planned to both deliver food and hold a feast Tuesday night. MESA also funded a community lunch Tuesday during which members of AIHFS and University students talked about contemporary issues affecting Native American communities, and especially students. These issues spanned from the increasing need for Native students to specialize in environmental preservation as well as maintaining cultural values.

Shiloh Maples, the healthy foods initiatives coordinator at AIHFS and member of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, highlighted the necessity for Native American people to work together to continue growth and development within communities.

“Native culture relies on interdependence to survive, whereas dominant culture really relies on independence,” she said. “The interdependence is about growing together. We support one another because our future and well-being are interconnected.”

Teia McGahey, a 2017 U-M Dearborn alum from the Ojibwe tribe, serves as an assistant for the youth program AIHFS runs for students in high school and higher education. The program works with young adults to help prepare for college or joining the workforce and facilitate cultural engagement. She stressed the importance of outreach for Native American youth and collaborations with the University.

“I feel like a lot of Native people and people from all over have been very disconnected from our culture, histories and ways of living, and I feel that it’s really important to have those and hold on to them, for anyone who wants to,” she said. “That’s the most fulfilling thing about working here, is being able to help be the bridge for people to their culture and where they come from. I think that’s very healing, and that’s how I see a lot of the work our community programs do here, is facilitating healing for our people.”

McGahey explained how partnership with the University can provide resources to educate and mobilize Native and non-Native students alike.

“Collaborations like this are so powerful because it’s just growing our work in so many different ways, it can be planning events, starting movements, getting in the social justice world in a way that is beneficial for us, and being able to collaborate totally increases our potential,” she said.

LSA sophomore Samara Jackson Tobey, activism chair of Native American Student Association External, has spearheaded Native American Heritage Month initiatives and explained how reconnecting with these communities will benefit students on campus.

“As MESA evolves their relationships with (Native American Students Association) students and tribal communities, it’s vital MESA finds time to honor the commitment and opportunities AIFHS offers to its community,” Tobey said. “Bridging our students on campus with a greater network is what Native American Heritage Month is all about, learning your support systems.”

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