Indigenous students and staff speak their truth

For non-indigenous people, November is marked by Thanksgiving but for the people native to this land, Native American Heritage Month is a time to speak truth to the harsh realities Indigenous people have faced as well as celebrate their cultures. The Native American Student Center is taking on the challenge to change the colonizer fiction nonindigenous people are taught.

The second annual Harvest Day celebration will take place on Thursday, Nov. 19, featuring a Reconstructing Thanksgiving panel and a meal demo with chef Crystal Wahpepah. This year’s Harvest Day will take a more intersectional approach by collaborating with the African American Student Center and the Cesar E. Chaves Center for Higher Education.

Cal Poly Pomona’s 2019 Dia de Los Muertos commemoration kicked off with a processional dance by Danza Azteca Teuxihuitl. (Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post)

Wildflower Robles-Ontiveros, a Gabrielino-Tongva Social Justice Leader at the NASC said, “The idea of it is to change the narrative of what Thanksgiving means, what it means to be operating in this colonized society, how shared marginalization is the root and how that is brought together under modern day social movements by looking at how the Black Lives Matter movement and the movement for Indigenous sovereignty and liberation are really linked together.”

According to Isabel Satala, a Navajo and Hopi Social Justice Leader at NASC, ASI Bronco Events & Activities Team came to NASC in hopes of organizing a native meal demonstration for Thanksgiving. NASC made sure to use this opportunity to highlight Indigenous culture. This included traditional foods, youth dancers from Torres Martines Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and native traditions.

“Our team thought it was important to note that Thanksgiving is a settler-colonial thing that got brought up,” said Satala. “We didn’t actually celebrate Thanksgiving; it is called Harvest Day. It is a time where we go out and get all the things you need for the winter. So, we wanted to implement that and reconstruct that idea of thanksgiving into what thanksgiving actually is to us.”

The first Harvest Day Celebration held on campus last year also included a panel and meal demo but on a larger scale. With about 300 people in attendance, the event explored deconstructing the westernized idea of Thanksgiving and allowed a range of native community members from elders to young adults to an elementary age student to tell their stories.

This year’s virtual celebration will continue the tradition of deconstructing Thanksgiving while honoring native ways of being. For Oscar Duran, a graduate assistant at the NASC, it is a moment of heightened visibility.

“We try to plan events that are going to be impactful, bring awareness, highlight narratives and also change narratives because, unfortunately, throughout our education in the K-12 system we haven’t been taught the truth about the way things happened historically for Native people,” said
Duran. “Through this month we have the opportunity to change the narrative, to highlight the
people that need to be recognized and share this with the community.”

While this is a time of celebration and learning, Sandy Kewanhaptewa-Dixon, a Hopi professor
and the Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department Chair, finds it is impossible to fit the vastness
of Indigenous culture into a single month.

“It is unfortunate that we are not part of everyday conversations in talking about our Native ways
and things we do,” Kewanhaptewa-Dixon said. “It is really hard to try to encapsulate everything
within a month. It just does not serve justice. How do you talk about over 500 tribes in the
United States in one day? It is difficult to squeeze in the historical differences that our people
have gone through. We are not really able to talk about the specifics: the seizures of our land that
gave rise to increasingly legal and political maneuvering and putting us on reservations and
taking us away from our homes.”

The Native American Student Center strives to educate the larger CPP community while serving
as a home for Native students; a place where students are valued and their culture, history and
families are treasured.

Though NASC is providing the campus a chance to learn about Native American Heritage
Month, Robles-Ontiveros explained the importance of self-educating and not expecting to be
taught by native people.

“Don’t expect friends that you have that are native, classmates that you have that are native to be
responsible for teaching you what this month is about,” she said. “For us, it is more of a time for
celebration. Any education that we do, any platforms that we give and that we host that are
educational for the campus and wider community, we do that because we love you guys but
overall, this is just a time to celebrate.”

Students can register on MyBar to attend the Second Annual Harvest Day Celebration:

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