NASAW organizes annual celebration for Native American Heritage Week

Native American Students at Williams (NASAW) held its annual heritage week last week with events relating to Native American life, history and culture every day. The theme of this year’s Heritage Week was “News from Indian Country.” Nalo Jackson ’02, a leader of NASAW, said that the reason for choosing this theme was NASAW’s desire to “bring knowledge about all different aspects of American Indian life as well as issues that are important to American Indian communities.” She added that she wanted to shed some light on these issues for the benefit of mainstream society.

Five events were held over the week. On Monday, Geoff Sanborn, professor of English at Bard College, discussed the book Indian Tears by Sherman Alexie. In his lecture, he discussed the role of weeping in expressing moments of grief in the author’s work. On Tuesday, a documentary entitled “Black Indians: An American Story” was shown. The movie addressed the interesting, though often untold, history of those with mixed black and Native American heritages.

Another movie, “Dance Me Outside,” was shown on Wednesday evening. The film, a love story and murder mystery, was set on the Kidabanessee Reserve in Ontario and provided viewers with an insight into reservation life.

On Thursday and Friday, present and past leaders of NASAW gave lectures on their own work. Thursday, Jackson spoke on “Tribal Colleges and the role they play in American Indian Education.” The next day, Liz Hoover ’01, former leader of NASAW and currently at Brown University, discussed “Mixed Blood Indian Identities,” her thesis work. Hoover explained the purpose of her lecture as exploring “different ways that different mixed blood Indian people chose to identify themselves. I looked at the different ways that Native American as well as Euro-American concepts of ethnicity have changed over time.” She also talked about historical events and trends that affect how mixed blood Natives Americans classify themselves.

Jackson said that these matters are of great concern to current American Indians, and she hopes to bring a better understanding of the issues to the Williams campus. “All too often, people just don’t know what is going on within Native communities, so we made it a point to try and bridge that knowledge gap with this year’s NASAW week,” she explained.

“NASAW strives to create a supportive environment for Native American students,” she said, “as well as bring knowledge of American Indian culture and issues that are important to American Indian communities to campus.”

Jenn Yazzie ’02, another director of NASAW, expressed her hope that the group will have more of a presence on campus. She stressed that to join the group “it is not necessary for students to have Native American ancestry. We want people that have an interest of the Native Peoples and want to learn more and participate in the celebration of the Native American heritage.”

Yazzie spoke of the group’s desire to create a network of similar groups from other colleges. With this network in place, all the groups could share in the celebration of the Native American heritage by visiting each other’s events. Organizational meetings will take place in Hardy House starting in November, with specific dates and times to be announced soon.