Native American Heritage Month
By Marilyn Primovic
From the tragic Trail of Tears to local river names like the Oconee, the state of Georgia carries a vast amount of Native American history.
You may have visited the Etowah Indian Mounds in North Georgia on a school field trip, but learning about Native American identity and culture can move beyond sightseeing and into the way you view the world around you.
The Native American Student Association (NASA) stands ready to celebrate Native American Heritage Month with you, Native and non-Native alike.
“Native American Heritage Month serves as a springboard for the rest of the year,” said Isabelle Riddle, a leader within NASA.
Tiffany R. Smith, senior coordinator for Multicultural Services and Programs, explained how Native American Heritage Month and every heritage month is an experience to learn and grow.
“The UGA community is invited to attend, learn, and participate in the celebration of Native American Heritage Month,” said Smith.
Through out the month of November, Multicultural Services and Programs (MSP) in collaboration with campus partners observe and honor Native American heritage, history and legacy. The Pow Wow at Stone Mountain is the biggest Native gathering in Georgia and showcases Native American culture through dance, music, authentic craft demonstrations, cooking traditions, storytelling, wildlife presentations and more. Photos: MSP Staff
Riddle explained how it might seem like NASA is only for indigenous students, but the group earnestly desires for members of the UGA community, no matter what background, to be a part of the NASA gatherings and Native American Heritage Month activities.
Smith explained how NASA started with seven students coming together for Heritage Month, and while the number of Natives on campus is small, the impact of sharing Native experiences is immeasurable.
“NASA’s focus is celebrating and teaching our culture by swapping stories and opening our ears to listen to others too,” said Riddle.
She said each individual offers different perspectives, and NASA gatherings serve as an opportunity to learn about these individual experiences while also recognizing the common thread of Native American culture and interest.
Riddle’s grandmother and father lived on Cherokee land in Oklahoma, and while she did not grow up on a reservation, she said her family’s Cherokee heritage impacts her daily life.
“I realized how much my family’s teachings and thoughts about things have been passed on to me in quiet ways,” said Riddle.
She shared an impactful memory of her family attending an elementary school program where her class dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians. She said her family reminded her through this experience there is so much that goes unsaid about Native American heritage.
“My grandma understood that [dressing up in costumes for Thanksgiving] is the American tale, but it still troubled and saddened her,” said Riddle. “We have the opportunity to correct misconceptions that people do not even realize are inaccurate.”
People do not seek to be wrong, and many people cannot help that they were not taught actual truths about Native Americans, she explained.
She said she commends UGA for addressing these issues in classes and research.
“We have some people here doing amazing work and classes trying to give you the real picture,” she said.
One of NASA’s goals going forward is to reach out to classes where Native topics are discussed to open more opportunities for students to grow and learn, she said.
One of NASA's aims is to reach out to prospective UGA students with Native American heritage to show them they will be supported if they choose to attend the University.
“We here at Multicultural Services and Programs are a place for Native American students, and we value their experiences here at UGA,” said Smith.
“It is a big deal to step out of your community to come here, and we want to encourage and connect with you,” said Riddle. “We want this to be a place where you can settle into the ways you were raised or branch out to new things if you want.”
She said her hope the UGA community is for continued learning and open-mindedness.
“This is the reason I do this work,” said Smith. “It is all about loving and caring for each member of the UGA community.”