Celebrating Native American culture

A look into how Native American Heritage Month was celebrated on campus

A display case brought awareness to missing and murdered indigenous women

As November is coming to an end, two Native American organizations at North Dakota State University detailed their purpose and how they celebrated Native American Heritage Month.

The Native American Student Association (NASA) and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) both advocate for awareness in Native American culture on campus.

NASA is open to all students who are interested in Native American culture allowing students to meet and socialize during club meetings and events.

Sarah LaVallie, the president of AISES, explained that the purpose of the organization is to “Increase the representation of Native American and Alaskan Native students and professionals in STEM fields.”

The AISES organization on campus is part of a national non-profit organization that sustains 189 charter college and university chapters along with 158 affiliated K-12 schools.

In terms of how AISES celebrated Native American Heritage Month, LaVallie explained displays and events they put together for the month.

At the beginning of November, a display case in the Memorial Union was decorated to raise awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women.

LaVallie mentioned that they were planning on setting up a teepee in the Grandmother Earths Gift of Life Garden on campus, but it didn’t work out.

On Nov. 12, Tyrel Iron Eyes, a recent NDSU graduate, gave a lecture on Lakota language and cultural history which LaVallie said had a good turnout.

On Nov. 20, students were able to make Native beadwork during a workshop presented by LaVallie. During the workshop, everybody learned the basics of beadwork while taking home their crafts.

Cameo Salzer and Mei Lin Batten were both at the workshop and explained why they attended.

Salzer and Batten both expressed how important they think it is for people to experience new cultures as they said the workshop was interesting exposure to Native American culture.

“You only really learn about Native American history in an American history class,” Batten said.

Salzer added that it depends on where people grew up and the amount of diversity in their town.

Salzer and Batten both mentioned that if someone isn’t affiliated with Native American culture, then there isn’t much consideration for the culture.

In terms of who usually attends events, LaVallie said there is usually good turnout. “Usually we get a lot of non-native as well as native students that are interested in things like beading.”

Though LaVallie thinks a lot of students are interested in learning about Native American culture, she feels as though both AISES and NASA aren’t well known and could advertise more.

“NDSU has supported Native students on campus in various ways, such as having the office of Multicultural Programs or taking part in the Woodlands and High Plains Powwow. However, there are always areas for improvement.”

Sarah LaVallie, president of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society

“For us I feel like our group isn’t well known enough, just to get the word out about our organization on campus,” LaVallie said.

LaVallie mentioned that a common misperception students have of AISES is that the organization is only for Native American students in STEM majors.

“It’s not just for Native American students and it’s not just for STEM majors, we welcome anyone who is interested in joining,” LaVallie said.

Whether she feels as though NDSU has made Native American students feel welcome on campus by having AISES and NASA, LaVallie said, “Its good that they support what we do as Native American clubs on campus.” 

“NDSU has supported Native students on campus in various ways, such as having the office of Multicultural Programs or taking part in the Woodlands and High Plains Powwow. However, there are always areas for improvement,” LaVallie said.

Some suggestions LaVallie has on what can be improved on campus include creating a Native American center, hiring more indigenous staff, bringing back the Indigenous Peoples Program or introducing a Native American Studies program and providing more funding for the Multicultural Programs office.

As for other events, LaVallie said that both AISES and NASA team up periodically throughout the year to host a variety of events at least once a month. During some events, the organizations host beading workshops and taco sales that occur every semester to help raise funds for the AISES to attend conferences.

The organization attends the AISES National Conference every fall which has one of the largest career fairs for Native American students hosting presentations and networking events according to LaVallie.

Along with attending the conference, LaVallie said that they volunteer during the conference by helping with the Woodlands High Plains Powwow that is hosted by the tri-colleges every spring.

They also attend the AISES Leadership summit and AISES Region Five Conference which helps build skills for professional and career development.

LaVallie discussed that throughout the school year AISES volunteers around campus as this year they ran a booth during Boo at NDSU this year.

In the spring, AISES helps with Science Olympiad when its hosted on campus and have judged at the North Dakota Native American State Science Fair.

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