The month of November was declared Native American Heritage Month in 1990. At Western Washington University, it is a time to recognize the history of the land that the university sits on and to uplift Native peoples’ voices.
“At Western, it's a time of celebration and recognition of the rich cultures and traditions of our Native and Indigenous communities, but also one of learning, reflection and dialogue,” according to Western’s webpage on Native American Heritage Month.
Many events are being held to honor and celebrate the month, including a variety of Native speakers, panels and the IndigiQueer Fashion show. The full list of the events can be found here.
Western started celebrating Native American Heritage Month last year and has continued to put more intention into honoring the month. The theme this year is “our time, our lands,” focusing on what currently is impacting the Native population and recognizing the lands we are currently on, said Amy Salinas Westmoreland, director of Multicultural Student Services.
“One of the things that you’ll see with our Native American Heritage Month celebration is that there’s a lot of educational events, but we’re also doing celebratory events,” Salinas Westmoreland said.
Western has been continuously improving their efforts to be more mindful and inclusive of Native people since 2016, when Western’s Native American Student Union wrote a letter to President Sabah Randhawa, said Heather Jefferson, wellness advocate for Northwest Indian College and Lummi Tribal member.
Several requests in the letter have been met, including the addition of Laural Ballew as Tribal Liaison, funding for the Spring Powwow, and funding to build a Coast Salish-style longhouse on Western’s campus.
But celebrating the month is only part of what Western can do to uplift Native people and their voices.
“It’s very important for us to celebrate at least the month, but it’s more than just a month,” said George Swanaset Jr., the cultural resources director of the Nooksack Indian Tribe.
Western can do more year-round to support Native students and community members.
"For us, every day is Native American Day, but November is a time when every American can reflect on our shared history. This is not ancient history. This is a story of resiliency and history in the making now for local Native peoples,” said RoseMary LaClair, chairwoman of the Nooksack Indian Tribe.
One way Western can uplift Native people is by teaching the histories of the peoples indigenous to this area.
“Teach about our treaties and about the tribes in our local areas, year-round,” said Swanaset.
By understanding our own identities and struggles, we can connect and be grounded, said Jefferson.
“We have to know about ourselves and who we are, where we come from,” she said.
Western can also reach out to and encourage Native students to pursue their careers through higher education, said LaClair.
“What we want is more of our Native students to go to college to be able to help us continue our fight,” said Swanaset.
Western students can do work year-round to support and uplift their Native peers as well. Most of this month’s Native American Heritage events are open to anyone – joining these events is encouraged, said Salinas Westmoreland.
“It’s important that our students want to have conversations and engage with each other,” said Salinas Westmoreland. “Show up to the events and learn something about what’s happening with the Native American communities. Get to know our neighbors and really acknowledge the land that we’re on.”
Olivia Marty (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is a sophomore majoring in public relations journalism. In her spare time, Olivia loves going thrifting, watching documentaries, and crafting. She can be reached at email@example.com.