Lawrence celebrates Native American Heritage month this November

The First Nations Student Association and the Four Winds Native Center will be hosting events and activities throughout November, which is designated as Native American Heritage month.

Sonya Ortiz, who helped to revitalize FWNC, wants to use the month to educate the community about native culture.

“We want them to know we’re more than just powwows,” Ortiz said. “We’re more than what they see on TV and Hollywood stereotyping. We’re individuals that, because of westernized education, are clumped into one category. There’s more to us than that.”

Ortiz, who has tribal affiliations with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the Acoma Pueblo of New Mexico, has lived in Lawrence since the early 2000s. She graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University and is now a graduate student in indigenous studies at the University of Kansas.

Ortiz said she and some of her fellow students in indigenous studies at the University organized a large event through the FWNC to commemorate the month.

“This is the first of its kind locally,” Ortiz said. “There are things going on like this in Kansas City, but there’s nothing really here as far as celebrating Native Americans.”

The event, “Night of the Lanterns,” will take place on the Haskell campus on Nov. 16. Attendees can observe luminary displays on the Haskell campus, and there will be opportunities to learn about prominent Native Americans in history.

After this event, attendees are invited to stay for the “Celebrate the Youth” powwow. Student leaders at Haskell, as well as local performers and dancers, will perform.

Throughout the month, the FWNC will also be holding activities and lectures aimed at giving community members a better understanding of Haskell and Native American history and culture.

“We have these presentations and workshops going on, and people can talk face-to-face with presenters to bridge those barriers,” Ortiz said. “It’s also for non-natives because our teachings are somewhat different, and we can celebrate those differences and learn from one another. I get to learn, too.”

The First Nations Student Association will be kicking off the celebrations today with an exhibition of Native American performers in front of the Kansas Union.

Ramzey Ingels, a sophomore from Mayetta and vice president of FNSA, said the annual kickoff introduces students to a new way of celebrating.

“I would say they are probably surprised by it,” Ingels said. “Some students have never gone to a powwow and never really experienced Native American traditions.”

The FNSA and other Haskell and University of Kansas student groups are hosting events related to Native American Heritage month throughout November, including film and documentary screenings, a panel on Native American land rights and a meat pie sale at the Ecumenical Christian Ministries.

Ortiz said that, though Lawrence is somewhat more liberal and accepting of different cultures and ethnicities than other places she has been and lived, there are still changes that could be made. She also said the activities and events throughout Lawrence during Native American Heritage month will be a step in the right direction.

“There are some remnants of prejudice,” Ortiz said. “But I think it is better than other places I’ve been because of the fact that Haskell is here. There’s still more we could improve upon; we want to have people in the community celebrate the diversity that is Lawrence.”

  • Updated Nov. 3, 2012 at 8:48 pm
  • Edited by Madison Schultz