UB community members gathered on Friday to promote Native American culture and solidify the university’s commitment to representing native students, faculty and staff in and outside the classroom.
About 50 students, faculty and community members attended the Native American welcome event outside of the Student Union. The event, hosted by the Office of Inclusive Excellence, featured faculty and community speakers who discussed their work at the university, research and need for an understanding of the Native American community at UB.
Theresa McCarthy, a transnational studies professor and an Onondaga member of the Six Nations announced faculty will once again teach native languages courses like Haudenosaunee and incorporate cultural events throughout the year.
Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence, said her office and Pete Hill, the “All Our Relations” director of the Native American Communities Services of Erie & Niagara Counties, will work together with Native American faculty members toward a “year-long series of events” to help “raise awareness and inclusion” at UB.
“This is part of our history and it’s our responsibility to [spread that message], as well,” Stratigakos said. “We wanted this event to be visible at the heart of the campus, during the first week when students are coming by, to draw people into a conversation to keep people’s interest so hopefully these conversations grow over the year.”
Stratigakos said her office features both an Indigenous inclusion committee on the Inclusive Excellence Leadership Council and an inclusive excellence faculty fellowship program. Stratigakos said she wants to continue some of her predecessor Teresa Miller’s efforts, including how UB “weaves its campus” into the “broader community” on issues of diversity and inclusion.
Last semester, The Spectrum wrote about the native community’s desire for representation on campus. Native students and faculty said they felt “invisible” due to a lack of representation across UB’s three campuses.
Stratigakos said the office started working on issues of representation and feels encouraged to take the issue further.
Buffalo scholar-activist Jodi Lynn Maracle started the event with the Thanksgiving Address in the Mohawk language.
Professors including Hilary Weaver, professor and associate dean for academic affairs in the school of social work, Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, a transnational studies professor, and Donald Grinde, director of graduate studies in the transnational studies department, spoke to attendees about their experiences at the university and a number of their seminars/courses. Hill, a ‘91 alum, also talked about the relationship between the university and his organization.
The event culminated with organizers serving attendees soup and frybread, along with music and a smudging.
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Zukoski addressed attendees and said the event is a reminder of the university’s efforts to foster and maintain relationships with Buffalo’s Native American and Indigenous community.
“When we were putting this together, our goal was to recognize Native American students and the university’s connections to the community,” Zukoski said. “[UB] is connected to the Native American house in Buffalo and alumni in the community. It’s part of an ongoing campus effort to be inclusive and welcoming.”Margaret Moss, professor and assistant dean for diversity and inclusion in the nursing school, suggested the welcome event take place at UB as she noticed similar events take place at schools in western states, like her former employer the University of Minnesota.
“There were always events and people and listservs announcing these kinds of cultural events, and I came here and there wasn’t any of that,” Moss said. “If there was, it was [only representing one tribe]. So if a student is Navajo but they see an event for Haudenosaunee-inspired events, they might think ‘oh, that’s not for me.’ We should be supporting all nations, holding inter-tribal events to show that UB is inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”
In an address, McCarthy acknowledged UB’s operation on traditional Seneca Nation land. McCarthy said this is the first Native American welcoming event the university has held since she started working at the university in 2007.
“It’s so important for the university to move forward in making native people more visible and a recognized part of campus culture because we are an institution that sits and operates on indigenous territories,” McCarthy said. “People dismiss the importance of native people because we’re such a small population, and to me that signifies a problem since we’re on native land and are in such close proximity to [native peoples’ lands].”
Joseph Vertino, a senior vocal performance major, said he thinks the event is great not just for the Native American community on campus but for all community members.
“I think it’s awesome, especially to bring the Native American student body and faculty here. It’s important to bring them together and cultivate that relationship with UB,” Vertino said.
“As someone who necessarily isn’t part of that community, for me to see this event happening, I think it’s really great.”
Benjamin Blanchet is the senior engagement editor for The Spectrum. His words have been seen in The Buffalo News (Gusto) and The Sun newspapers of Western New York. Loves cryptoquip and double-doubles.