Rooted on a pathway between the Chemistry and Natural Science
buildings lies a symbol of the foundation of the University —
a plaque titled “Native American Land Gift.”
Etched in bronze and framed on marble, the plaque commemorates
the 1817 grant of lands from the Three Fires — an Indian
confederacy that comprises of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi
tribes — which led to the beginning of the University.
Almost two centuries have passed since the historic event, yet
it was only two years ago that the University finally erected a
tablet in honor of the Native Americans’ gift. While
it’s a great step forward, said Matt Stehney, Native American
Student Association co-chair, it seems that only in recent years
have people begun opening their eyes and recognizing the many
contributions Native Americans have made to the United States.
“I think a lot of the times people just accept things and
not even question where they came from,” added Stehney, who
is from the Taino tribe.
But this month, students will have an opportunity to learn more
about native peoples’ contributions as November marks the
annual Native American Heritage Month.
Beginning with the Fall Feast tomorrow, the month-long
celebration attempts to broaden awareness of Native
Americans’ lives by commemorating their achievements and
immersing outsiders in their culture with a series of cultural
events and lectures.
Over the decades, the United States has seen a sweeping change
in its relationship with the Native American community. Where once
native peoples were given a few pages in the country’s
history books, now institutions like the University have
established Native American studies departments and are also
holding Pow Wows annually.
Native American Heritage Month was first declared in 1990 by
President George H.W. Bush to further overcome the centuries-old
dearth of recognition of America’s native peoples.
For Stehney, through the years, both the University and Native
American community have worked actively to preserve Native American
culture and redefine it more accurately.
But the main concern of Native American Heritage Month is to
infuse the campus with that redefined image, especially to students
unfamiliar with Native Americans, he said.
“Heritage month is a time for education, a time for
sharing and celebrating our culture with non-natives, as well as
celebrating our culture within our community,” Stehney
The University’s Exhibit Museum of Natural History is also
hoping to further educate the campus on Native American culture
this month, said Rackham student Veronica Hutchinson, who is from
the Ojibwe tribe.
Along with its updated displays on native societies, opening
Nov. 20, the museum will be previewing a new exhibit that uses its
planetarium to feature storytelling from the Anishinaabe tribe, she
Yet while the University has often worked to promote Native
American culture and educate the community, Hutchinson said the
United States needs to do the same. Whereas the University recently
acknowledged its origins stemmed from Native American peoples, the
country as a whole has not, she said.
“Personally, it’s my opinion that we as a society
still have a long way to go in terms of owning up to
America’s relationship with Indian nations. America’s
creation story is its relationship with Indian nations.
Period,” Hutchinson said.