During the first two weeks of November, Mills’ Indigenous Women’s Alliance (IWA) organized six events in celebration of Native Heritage Month.
IWA kicked off the month on Nov. 5, and planned Indigenous Herbalism and Healing with Sage LaPena on Nov. 6, Native American Heritage Month Dinner on Nov. 7, Indigenous Women’s Panel on Nov. 8, Indigenous Film Screening on Nov. 9 and Andean Medicine with La Loba Loca on Nov. 15.
The kickoff on the fifth was open to Indigenous-identified students and held in the solidarity lounge. IWA invited an Ohlone elder to share her stories.
LaPena is a well known traditional Native American herbalist who has spoken at Mills before, and grew up learning and living with nature. In her event on Nov. 6, topics ranged from the appropriation of native medicinal practices by the medical industry to the use and farming of white sage.
Founders provided the dinner for Native American Heritage Month on Nov. 7.
The Indigenous Women’s Panel on Nov. 8 featured activists and community leaders Mills alum Morning Star Gali, Dr. Kalamaokaaina Niheu, Loa Niumeitolu, Laulani Teale and Mills student Sam Barnett. All of the panelists discussed the ways they have participated and supported the decolonization efforts of different groups, how they became involved, how they view their work, and where they draw their drive.
IWA screened the PBS documentary called Dawnland on the Nov. 9, which dives into how state-sanctioned forced adoption of native children by non-native families disrupted and destroyed many native communities and those children’s cultural identities.
Barnett is also a part of IWA and feels that events like these are important to show the non-native student population and greater Mills community the Native and Indigenous student presence at Mills and to engage in conversation and education around issues that affect Native and Indigenous populations both locally and more widely.
“It’s important at Mills because we don’t often center the experience of Indigenous people,” Barnett said. “Things that benefit other people of color don’t always benefit Indigenous people…Mills’ take on social justice could do more to center Indigenous perspectives.”
After former ethnic studies professor Melinda Micco announced that she would be leaving Mills at the end of the Spring 2018 semester, there was some question about who would take over Mills’ initiative to increase the Native and Indigenous student population at Mills, as Micco was one of few professors who identified as Native.
Gali, who previously wrote on The Campanil, addressed issues of Native student community and treatment on campus in her 2008 article Honoring Native American History Month.
“The purpose of this month is to honor and recognize the original inhabitants of this land,” Gali wrote in the article. “To truly respect and grasp the historical legacy is to educate yourself of the current struggles Indigenous peoples face in the territory in which you co-exist.”
This year, Mills alum and Kanaka Maoli professor Dr. Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer is the Director of Native Student Recruitment and Retention Initiative. IWA has built a community on campus with Viola LaBeau as the club president for the past few years, and this year Kelli Rutherford is in the Vice President position.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2006 Native American and Alaska Native students represented just one percent of postsecondary students. However, the NCES reported that this number has doubled since 30 years prior.
In the past, LaBeau has been involved in and helped organize the bi-annual Pow Wow at Mills, a tradition which has been at Mills for over 15 years. The Pow Wow invites community members, organizations geared toward Native and Indigenous communities, and tribe members to campus to participate in dance contests, showcase their businesses and organizations, and enjoy great food and each other’s company.
“Having the Native American Heritage Month also gives us space to build solidarity moving forward and it was great to have that sense of recognition,” Barnett said. “I’m really excited by the momentum that IWA is gaining this year…Not just recruitment, but it’s important to provide support for Indigenous students for retention.”