Native American culture moves to center stage in November

Grasping a culture that in the Northwest stretches back more than 10,000 years is no small task, which is why the UO joined hands across campus this month to mark Native American Heritage Month.

While the university has long held events commemorating the achievements and contributions of the Native American community, this is the first year different departments and student groups across campus have collaborated to sponsor and organize a range of events through the month of November. Check here for remaining events.

“It’s always been an organic process that students have driven; it’s still that way, but now we have financial and department support, so it’s really exciting,” said Stephanie Tabibian, a Native American student retention specialist and academic adviser in the Center for Multicultural and Academic Excellence. “It’s great that the UO is providing a full month of programming that’s reflective of the student population.”

The variety of events has been a balance between traditional Native American culture events — like beading workshops and storytelling sessions — and community events, visits from nationally-recognized scholars and public lectures on topics like racism and colonialism.

“It’s a balance of traditional education and modern education that exist in the same environment,” Tabibian said.

Public talks and panels during the remainder of the month will be led by national scholars who will discuss racist sports mascots, the coexistence of indigenous and federal authority and the gender of anticolonial sovereignty.

The month also has highlighted the efforts of the UO Native American Student Union, the UO Native American Law School Association and Native American Youth Association. The groups have made their priority for this heritage month twofold: educating non-native students about their culture and traditions — through games, workshops, movie nights and other activities — while also providing career and academic information tailored to Native American students.

“It’s about enhancing their social experiences and finding a voice based on their identity on campus,” said Sari Pascoe, vice president for campus and community engagement in the Division of Equity and Inclusion. “Hopefully these experiences will serve as a launching board to help them in their academic career.”

That’s actually something the UO works on all year, through its ongoing relations with Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes and efforts to create a welcoming place for Native American students.

Two UO leaders at the forefront of those efforts are Jason Younker, assistant vice president and presidential advisor on sovereign nation relationships, and Gordon Bettles, steward of the UO’s Many Nations Longhouse. Both lived through times when their tribes’ federal recognition was terminated, only to see it ultimately restored.

The two men sat down at the longhouse recently to reflect on those experiences, on Native American Heritage Month and on the work that still needs to be done. Their conversation has been distilled into a short video accompanying this article.

Ultimately, though, it’s Native American Heritage Month — not history month. The goal is to honor rich traditions and intricate cultures, to explore ways to progress socially through community dialogue and to recognize the important contributions of the Native American community.

“It’s not meant to learn about, but to learn with; we want to critically engage and be reflective,” said Vanessa Teck of the Division of Equity and Inclusion. “We’re not just here to observe, but to learn how to be allies and be transformative together.”

For a complete calendar of events and more information about them, click here.

— By Nathaniel Brown, Public Affairs Communications