Editor’s Note: Karla Casique, who is quoted in this article and organized this event, is a staff writer for The Writer’s Bloc.

American Indian Student Union Hosts Indigenous People’s Day Celebration

It was no accident that the American Indian Student Union hosted an Indigenous People’s Day event on Oct. 11, also the date for the national holiday known as Columbus Day .

“I wanted people to be face to face with the power and strength and beauty” of indigenous people, explained the AISU president and junior multiplatform journalism major, Karla Casique.

The tone of the evening was set with a short video in which Native Americans were asked what words they think of when they hear “Christopher Columbus.” His name was met with sentiments of powerful resentment.

“The start of a lot of pain,” one Native American woman said.

A similar mix of anger and sadness was mimicked by the three Wauja elders – Atapucha Waura, Karatu Waura and Tukupe Waura – who attended the celebration.

The Wauja tribe is located in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Deforestation is changing their old ways of life. The forest is too dry to support their slash-and-burn farming techniques, and bugs have begun to eat away at their once fruitful trees.

In another documentary presented, Where did the swallows go?, director Mari Corrêa briefly follows the natives of the Wauja tribe as several members explain their newfound struggles.

“Long ago, disease killed us,” a Wauja elder explained. “Now, what’s in the film is killing us.”

This journey to America was a bittersweet one, he continued. It gave the Wauja elders the opportunity to meet their indigenous relatives. The elders asked their American counterparts how they have survived in the years after colonization.

But, more importantly, this trip is a continuation of the Wauja’s fight for their native land.

“The outsiders have come and eaten away at our land,” the elder told the room full of university students. This is what he came here to share.

Max Yamane, a first year graduate student working toward a master of arts in musicology, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the content inthe video, “but actually seeing it was shocking.”

Adopted into a Lakota family himself, Yamane expressed that issues in the communities of Native Americans are particularly important to him. “I want to see what I can do to help and join in solidarity,” he said.

Students at this university should know that the environmental strain placed on native communities have “devastating impacts and consequences,” not just on those communities but on the rest of the world as well, Yamane added.

It was not all gloom in the Grand Ballroom that day, however. The seriousness of the issues presented were balanced by the willingness of the Wauja to share their cultural practices.

Standing in a straight line, the three elders began a synchronized dance of stomping and pacing across the room while singing a song. It was a ceremony in honor of the pique tree, a Brazilian fruit tree. Then several students were invited to join in another ceremonial dance, this time in a circle.

A few giggles filled the room in response to the dance. Casique noted it as a sign of many students being uncomfortable with the new culture presented to them.

“I didn’t know what was respectful,” said Deanna Barath, a first year student working toward her Ph.D. in health services administration. “But it was very cool that they wanted to include us,” she added. They are “very passionate about their culture.”

Casique wants students to know that feelings like these are necessary.

“Being uncomfortable is a good thing,” she said. “People talk about the resilience of Native Americans, but that shouldn’t be the only narrative.”

The goal of the AISU, according to Casique, is to both showcase native culture in a new light and talk about the serious issues surrounding these people.

“Indigenous people are not these stereotypes,” she said.” They are your classmates, your teachers, your doctors.”

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Taylor Roar is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at troar@terpmail.umd.edu.

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