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Carolina Indian Circle raises awareness of Native people on campus

Carolina Indian Circle
The Carolina Indian Circle organizes events to make Native American students on campus feel welcome and educate the public about their culture. Photo courtesy of Carolina Indian Circle.

Though Native American students make up less than one percent of the UNC student body, the Carolina Indian Circle aims to provide a welcoming environment for them while educating the public about their culture at UNC. 

Jamison Lowery, vice president of the club, learned about it from UNC students who went back to his high school to talk about UNC. 

"Some of the students I went to high school with came back and were telling us several different things Carolina had," Lowery said. "They told us about the Carolina Indian Circle, and they told us how it was a community for Native students to feel welcome of UNC, so that's when I first heard about it."  

One of the club's biggest focuses is on raising awareness on campus about Native American people and issues to let people know of their existence and get rid of the stereotypes.

"A lot of people have this idea that, 'Oh, all the Native people are gone,' or 'all the Native people live in teepees,' or 'all the Native people are mixed with something,'" Jamison said. 

Lindsey Barfield, treasurer of the club, met Amy Locklear Hertel, who served as the director of the UNC American Indian Center before becoming Chancellor Carol Folt's chief of staff in 2017, at a welcome back to school event. She started attending weekly meetings after Locklear Hertel invited her to the Carolina Indian Circle Welcome Back Cookout. 

"We have an annual event called 'My Culture Is Not A Costume,' which is before Halloween, where we talk about cultural appropriation and the difference between appropriation and appreciation," Barfield said. 

Gabrielle James, president of the club, joined the Carolina Indian Circle in college after hearing about it in high school. James mentioned the dark history of genocide of Native Americans, and said it's important to celebrate Native American culture at UNC because the University was built on the ancestral land of Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. 

"American Indian history has been written out of the textbooks by primarily white people that have written them and unfortunately like to erase things like American Indians as a way to justify the seizure," James said.

There are currently few Native Americans on campus, and Barfield said some students think they are not here anymore. The fact that the first Native American women to ever graduate from UNC is still alive motivates Barfield to voice issues on campus. 

"I think it's important for all Natives to contribute and to have a voice, because we are less than one percent of the student population on campus," Barfield said. 

James said a lot of biases stem out of ignorance but not out of direct hate, so she tries to educate people to change their minds. 

"People say things like 'I didn't even know they were still alive,' or 'I didn't even know we went to school with Native American people," James said.

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