November is Native American Heritage Month, celebrating vibrant experiences and traditions and highlighting awareness of often-overlooked parts of American history. Here at MSU, the North American Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO) provides social and cultural support to students. At a recent meeting, group members discussed upcoming plans, including a march from Beaumont Tower to the Rock for Indigenous People’s Day and the organization of a house for Native students to live in. Members also spent time building friendships over conversation and games.
NAISO student co-chair Karley Rivard is a junior in Hospitality Business with a specialization in American Indian Studies. A member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, she says, “My culture is a defining point to who I am.” Students, she says, make meaningful connections in NAISO. “Native students can come here to have a support group who knows what they’re going through.”
Determined to make sure their cultures are represented on campus, she reports that NAISO is here to support the diversity of all students: “When minorities come together to support each other, we’re not really a minority anymore.”
Rivard also loves her work as a mentor with the Indigenous Youth Empowerment Program (IYEP), which helps Native youth connect to their culture and live a healthy lifestyle. She finds the students inspiring. Estrella Torrez, RCAH professor and Co-Director of IYEP, who assists with NAISO programs, says, “MSU and LCC students make a concerted effort to learn about and build meaningful relationships with our IYEP youth.”
NAISO members work to ensure a mixture of cultural, informative and fun events. Rivard is looking forward to the Native Feast, which will be held Thursday Nov. 13 at Holmes Hall. The cafeteria will feature food, including pheasant and fry bread, that represents the variety of tribes in North America. A Native elders’ panel will follow the feast. Another favorite event is the annual Pow-Wow of Love, which showcases many varieties of Native dancing; it will be held again this upcoming March. Also in March, an alternative spring break trip will work with tribes in South Dakota and Oklahoma. Throughout the year, smaller social activities like ice-skating, bowling and traditional craft-making help strengthen the group.
Interdisciplinary studies in social science senior, Cassondra Church, observes that through NAISO’s cultural events, “people learn by being involved” and will ask questions when exposed to something they haven’t seen before. Group members say that Native Americans are “often misrepresented greatly,” for example, through sports mascots and by the wearing of traditional regalia as Halloween costumes. By being open-minded to other perspectives and cultures, the MSU community can help counteract any stereotyping.
Cultural programmer Sean Patrick, who has been involved with the group for five years, came to MSU without knowing anyone. For him, NAISO became a second family and a second home. He says the group provides a network of genuine interactions with an emphasis on trust. For member Jessica Hudson, NAISO is “a comfort space, where I can talk about Native issues.” She identifies as Black and also Native (Chickasaw) and says it’s important for people to realize that every tribe or band has its
“We’re not just limited to Natives on campus; anyone can join,” says treasurer Collin Church. Staff advisor Pat Dyer-Deckrow, who’s been with NAISO since 1995, would like the MSU community to know that “we’re not invisible, that when they think about having a diverse community they need to reach out to Native Americans on all levels.”
General Assembly meetings are held biweekly on Sundays at 6:30 p.m. in the NAISO Cultural Room, G-33 Hubbard Hall. For more information, visit the group’s website at https://www.msu.edu/~naiso/, find them on Facebook (Msu Naiso) and Twitter (@MSUNAISO) or contact Karley Rivard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MSU students interested in learning about Native cultures can also visit the Nokomis Learning Center in Okemos. The center presents the history, arts and culture of the Anishinaabe people through programs, exhibitions and special events, including an Ojibway conversation table. Details can be found on their website, www.nokomis.org.
Jenny Crakes is an arts and humanities and professional writing senior in the editing and publishing track. She’s an education coordinator with the RCAH Center for Poetry, and an intercultural aide with the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions. Her interests include creative writing, theatre, dance and the outdoors.