Native American Heritage Month

November 3, 2015

November is Native American Heritage Month, and at the University of Redlands that means an array of events and programs designed to recognize the cultural and social contributions of the First Americans.

Anchoring the month’s programming is “My Climb to the Highest Rung,” a Nov. 5 talk by Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet. When Manuelito-Kerkvliet became president of Antioch University in Seattle, she was the first Native American woman to lead a non-tribal college or university in the United States. A highly respected leader in higher education, she has remained true to her Navajo roots (she is the great, great granddaughter of Navajo Chief Manuelito) and has actively incorporated her cultural values and practices into her own leadership style.

“We wanted to bring in Dr. Manuelito-Kerkvliet since we thought she would be a good role model for our students, and her story is inspiring,” says Lawrence Gross, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Endowed Chair of Native American Studies and assistant professor in the Department of Race and Ethnic Studies. “We want to do programming that’s relevant to people’s lives and empowers our Native American students. We also want to make people aware in general that Native Americans are still here and still relevant and have contributed a lot to the development of this country.”

A blessing by local Native American spiritual leader Kim Marcus will precede the lecture, which is free and open to the public (7 p.m., Nov. 5, 2015, Hall of Letters 100, University of Redlands).

The month’s events at Redlands also includes a screening of "Smoke Signals," an independent film directed and co-produced by Chris Eyre with a screenplay by Sherman Alexie, based on a short story from his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

Meanwhile, Redlands students are getting ready to participate in a community learning and service opportunity on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation in Yuma, Arizona. For nearly a decade, University of Redlands students have worked alongside Quechan tribal members to revitalize 100 acres of lakes along the Colorado River. On this weekend trip, students will assist with a wide variety of projects while also participating in community events with members of the Quechan tribe.

Our culminating event will be a Real Thanksgiving Dinner for students featuring traditional dishes of the Wampanoag tribe, where they will learn the real story behind Thanksgiving, what the relationship between the Pilgrims and Indians was really like and what happened to the dozens of tribes that once existed in the Massachusetts area.

“It’s so common in schools,” says Gross, “ for students to dress up for Thanksgiving, with Pilgrims and Indians, and it’s amazing the degree to which that tradition has hung on when it’s so divorced from what actually happened. This is a good way to educate non-Indians and it’s important for Native students too, to actually look at that history and see that Indians weren’t passive victims but were taking an active role in trying to control their destiny.