For the first time, Friday’s Native American Heritage Day was marked by two community events at Northwestern: a First-Year Native American meet-and-greet and Native American storytelling.
The two events, hosted by Multicultural Student Affairs, Campus Inclusion and Community and the Native American and Indigenous People’s Steering Group, aimed to provide a space for students to gather and show support for the university’s Native population.
According to Communication freshman Kimani Isaac, each event was “lightly attended but well-supported.”
Isaac stumbled upon the day’s first event partially by mistake after coming to the Black House after class to do homework, but stayed for its duration. While Isaac, to her knowledge, is not of Native American descent, she has taken advantage of many cultural group orientations.
“I would definitely say that the community here is very welcoming,” Isaac said. “I’ve been to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander orientation, and that was so much fun, and I went to Hillel because I’m Jewish, and everyone was really welcoming.”
When SESP senior Forrest Bruce started at Northwestern three years ago, he found himself almost entirely alone in relation to his Native identity. At his first Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance meetings, Bruce realized there weren’t many people like him at the school – in fact, he was the only Native at the meeting, and found the club to be more akin to an interest group.
“As a young freshman really trying to get active and involved with a Native community in college, finding out that that didn’t really exist, it was disappointing,” Bruce said.
Bruce said he sees the university pushing to increase support of Northwestern’s Native population. For example, the MCA has never held an event for first-year Native and indigenous students before this year.
“I think that there’s a lot of really great stuff going on that really wasn’t happening when I was a freshman,” Bruce said.
Support has also manifested through the 2014 John Evans Study Committee report, which provided research and recommendations to Northwestern’s administration about better including Native Americans. The study led to hiring two full-time Native American faculty and a new full-time staff member at MCA devoted to Native American Content.
Patty Loew, a guest lecturer at Medill visiting from University of Wisconsin-Madison, says she is impressed by these initiatives. The changes are largely why she chose to join the growing population of Native-identified and Native-focused faculty members for the quarter to teach a class called “Native American Environmental Issues and the Media.”
“That’s why I’m here,” Loew said. “I want to encourage that, support that and help that in whatever way I can.”
Isaac later joined a group of about 20 in a room in Norris University Center to listen to a number of Native storytellers tell stories. While some people came and went, others stayed the whole time, transfixed by the quiet and captivating voices of local Native Americans. After each story had been told, an audience member contributed his or her own story, saying he or she was inspired by other speakers.
Both Bruce and Loew found Friday’s celebration promising for the future of the school.
Loew says that simply adding more Native and indigenous students is not always the first step.
“Something I really appreciate is the wisdom of the Evans initiative to really look at creating nurturing environments for Native people and then recruit students.”
Bruce confirms that while the population has not necessarily grown in his time at Northwestern, the strength of the community has.
“It was really encouraging to see some of the younger students come by,” Bruce said. “As a senior, knowing I’m about to be gone, all the work that I’ve been doing and that other people have been doing - I don’t want to see that go to waste. So it’s good to see that there are new people coming in.”