Stratton and Sawhney: Reviewing native and indigenous student awareness on campus

Asha Sawhney and Abigail Stratton

This year’s One Book One Northwestern selection, “An Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King has led to the expansion of Native American programming and inclusion efforts at Northwestern. Considering the role of NU founder and former Colorado Territory Gov. John Evans in the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, such efforts are long overdue. NU’s Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance has been at the forefront of creating programs and assisting administrative action to increase Native and indigenous resources on campus.

Abigail Stratton: NAISA has made an extensive contribution to the One Book campaign

NAISA has been a huge contributor to the One Book One Northwestern program this year. This year’s book, “The Inconvenient Indian,” describes the relationship between Native Americans and white people in North America. By nature of the book’s topic, NAISA has been an active force in much of the programming and awareness surrounding One Book. Two of NAISA’s executive members, SESP senior Forrest Bruce and Medill junior Lorenzo Gudino, collaborated with programmers, faculty, fellows and administrators on One Book’s steering committee to make suggestions and help promote a genuine, educational and healthy dialogue surrounding One Book programming.

One Book brought the potential for a wide-reaching discourse on Native American students and issues to our campus, but with it brought many concerns from NAISA also. Gudino, treasurer for NAISA and member of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, was initially concerned One Book would fail to focus on contemporary issues but said they have actually done “a good job focusing on both past traumas and contemporary issues.” He said NAISA’s interaction with One Book has been positive, as more students are learning about NAISA as a resource and a safe space on campus.

However, the discourse surrounding Native Americans on campus has changed only slightly this year, Gudino said. He pointed out that One Book “has the potential for wide reach, but doesn’t play out that way.” The dialogue still needs to be fostered and sustained even after a new topic is chosen for One Book. NAISA’s faculty advisor, Prof. Douglas L. Medin, also expressed concern over the long-term impact of One Book on Native students and on NAISA. Prof. Medin said in an email to The Daily that he and NAISA recognize that “… next year there will be another book and (the One Book program’s) attention necessarily will shift to that.”

Even with the added attention this year, NAISA is still a small group with only seven active members, and they have felt the burden of planning and helping with events for One Book. “NAISA members have been asked to take on responsibilities disproportionately,” Medin said. There are multiple One Book events each quarter in addition to NAISA’s annual events, and for only seven people to be expected to assist in organizing all of this programming with little to no support infrastructure is absurd. In addition to the burden of event planning, NAISA members have also been put in the position of representing a diversity of Native American groups and cultures. Gudino calls attention to this is as “a burden that a lot of Natives and minority groups face.”

“They are expected to have complete knowledge about a diverse group of people,” he said. ”I am still learning about my own tribe and definitely don’t know about all tribes. People always want answers to random facts they’re interested in. It’s exhausting.”

Gudino specifically points out that this social pressure to educate others is “a burden” that is not just faced by Native students, and it should not be on the shoulders of a student group to educate an entire campus. Although One Book provided NAISA with some extra resources this quarter, they have lacked a Northwestern administrator to help them, leading to a disproportional amount of responsibility being placed before them. Despite the extra resources they were given, Gudino said “places of learning should take the initiative” and it should not always be up to student initiatives but run by administration and University staff.

Although the Native American community at NU is relatively small, Native American students have had remarkably few resources available to them. NAISA has one faculty advisor, but until next quarter there will have been no administrator specializing in Native or indigenous students.

Even with the programming challenges and an increased dialogue this quarter, NAISA affirms that its interaction with One Book was a positive experience overall. Gudino said NAISA is currently “solidifying a relationship with MSA” to continue programming and use the One Book momentum to further its message on campus. Hopefully it will receive the resources necessary to have a voice on this campus and to continue discussion of Native American and indigenous issues on a broader scale with the help of the administration.

Asha Sawhney: The administration has made steps forward and backward in its Native and indigenous inclusion

This year there have been three main components to administrative efforts to increase awareness and availability of Native American resources on campus. By attending NAISA meetings this year, I’ve seen first hand the large amount of work this small group has taken on. There has been a push for greater collaboration between NAISA and Multicultural Student Affairs, a movement to rename the Evans room in Norris and talk of bringing new faculty who specialize in Native issues to NU. Medill junior Lorenzo Gudino, treasurer for NAISA and member of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe says MSA has been an excellent resource to NAISA this year and staff at its offices have consistently made sure the group has had the resources it needs. This relationship is bound to get stronger when the new assistant director for Multicultural Student Affairs, with a Native American focus, is instituted next quarter. MSA continued to show its support by making a statement at the 151st Anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre Commemoration.

The movement to rename the Evans room, however, hasn’t had the same positive results. NAISA met with the Norris Social Justice Committee, which has in the past run Black History Month Programming, to discuss the renaming. It was decided that the new name would be Potawatomi, in honor of the tribe native to the Great Lakes region in which NU is located. The subcommittee voted in favor of the change, but according to an email sent to concerned parties, when the suggestion was passed on to the administration of NU’s Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force, it was halted indefinitely. In this same email, it was mentioned that the renaming of the Evans room would be brought to a larger campus-wide discussion before any action is taken.

Hopefully these campus-wide discussions will actually occur instead of remaining a vague plan only known by a select few. This last-minute change on the part of the administration bears similarity to the proposed changes to the Black House announced over the summer. The suggestion to reallocate space in the Black House for offices within Campus Inclusion and Community has been halted after students spoke out in protest and four campus “listening sessions” were scheduled. On one hand it is positive to see the administration listening to marginalized voices and reacting accordingly — it can be a burden for students of color to be in charge of educating the administration on their experiences. Gudino, a member of a small student organization representing a relatively small student population here at NU, definitely shares the exhausting experience of having to represent and educate people on an entire population.

The last major move requested, to create a Native and Indigenous Research Center, of the administration has also faced mixed and confusing results. In a release from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the University confirmed it had replaced the initial idea of a Research Center with a “Research Initiative” which would aim to “… build a critical mass of scholars working in the field of Indigenous Studies broadly construed.” The goal is to hire two professors, one in the area of social disparity and another in cultural history and expression. When this initiative takes off, its faculty will work closely with Chicago-based groups such as the Newberry Library and American Indian Center of Chicago.

While NAISA has faced difficulties with sudden administrative halts and changes this year, the progress made is still impressive considering the size of the group. First and foremost NAISA seeks to create a safe space and accessibility of resources for Native students, and the group is always open to new members, whether they identify as Native/indigenous or are an ally committed to decolonization in the United States and abroad. Although Multicultural Student Affairs has proven to be an indispensable resource that works closer to students, more general, higher levels of administration continue to operate in secrecy. However, the stronger the voice Native students have on campus, the easier it will be to hold administration accountable to its promises and maintain transparency with students.

Abigail Stratton is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. Asha Sawhney is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.