November 18, 2013

Native American Heritage Month

Continuing a tradition that began several years ago, WPI will celebrate Native American Heritage Month with a series of events that will honor the traditions and culture of Native Americans.

Michael Harper, outreach coordinator for diversity programs in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, believes programs that honor various heritages are an enriching addition to all the campus happenings. “If you broaden your experiences, you broaden your horizons,” he says. No matter what their heritage or culture, students all contribute to the fabric of the country, he says, and learning about other cultures helps a student see the larger picture.

Many states and organizations use the month of November as a time to honor Native Americans and Native American heritage with various celebrations.

Using music, art, and legend storytelling, presenters will offer a full picture of the rich cultural traditions of Native Americans and discuss how they weave the past and the present. WPI has no designated Native American student association, and Harper says that makes these presentations even more important. “That is even more of a reason why we should do this,” he says. Exposing students to things they might not see in their everyday lives or even in their own heritage and traditions, widens their perspectives.

On Friday, Nov. 22, from 6 to 7:30 pm in Higgins Labs 116, a father and son will tell of their experiences within their culture from different generational standpoints. Chief Gentle Hawk, chief of the Worcester Inter-Tribal Indian Center, and his son, John, will each tell of their experiences living in a Native American village. While the father’s point of view will portray the culture and traditions, especially as they relate to music and drums, the son will talk about maintaining a balance between the ancient traditions and a modern life. Both will blend the past and the present in their discussions.

On Monday, Nov. 25, from 6 to 7:30 pm in Olin Hall 218, Stone Holder, an elder with the Western Wabanaki tribe of Algonquin Nation, and June “Little Winona” Hendrickson, the daughter of the late Princess Winona Harmon Baroni who founded the Worcester Inter-Tribal Indian Center, will bring their own personal experiences to talk about Native American culture. They will offer insights into Algonquin Nation, which is composed of many different area tribes, bringing artifacts and discussing the roles of the artifacts in traditions.

Stone Holder and Little Winona will both return to campus on Tuesday, Nov. 26, from 6 to 7:30 pm in Fuller Lower Auditorium to further discuss the importance of art, music, and legend to Native Americans. According to Harper, the discussion will focus on legends and stories that are passed down through the generations and used as both a teaching tool and a cultural link. Little Winona will also discuss the role of women in Native American traditions and modern life.

The United States first adopted a day of recognition for Native Americans in the first part of the 20th century when various states began recognizing the tradition. Eventually, President George H. W. Bush  approved a month-long designation that has continued to this day. While not an official national designation, many states and organizations use the month of November as a time to honor Native Americans and Native American heritage with various celebrations.

Harper hopes students will benefit from what they see and hear during WPI’s events. “It would be nice to have them walk away having learned something that is not science related or math related,” he says. “I would like them to be outside their comfort zone and to see that as important.”

By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil