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Wednesday October 5th

Alpha Pi Omega bridges the gap between campus and identity for Native American women

Caitlin Martin (left), a junior dental hygiene major, and Savannah Mercure (right), a senior interdisciplinary studies major, hold up Alpha Pi Omega's symbol at The Gift Plaza on Monday, March 2, 2020. Alpha Pi Omega is the first Native American sorority at UNC.
Buy Photos Caitlin Martin (left), a junior dental hygiene major, and Savannah Mercure (right), a senior interdisciplinary studies major, hold up Alpha Pi Omega's symbol at The Gift Plaza on Monday, March 2, 2020. Alpha Pi Omega is the first Native American sorority at UNC.

Alpha Pi Omega celebrates Native American sisterhood in a way that dually connects members to their roots and UNC’s campus. 

The multicultural interest sorority was founded at UNC in 1994. Now, the sorority has 12 undergraduate chapters and nine professional chapters across the nation. 

The organization values Native American interests and combines cultural enrichment with community service and education. 

Victoria Chavis, a faculty adviser for UNC's chapter, said Native American womanhood is an important identity to explore and understand. 

“Native American culture is very matrilineal and respects women more than a lot of mainstream culture,” Chavis said. 

Elayna Locklear, the president of the UNC Alpha Pi Omega chapter, said the sisterhood provides an environment which allows women to connect with their culture on campus and away from their hometowns.

“Native communities are about ties and community, so we really get to understand where each other grew up and ties to tribal history and culture,” Locklear said. 

Community service is one way in which the sorority gets more immersed in their environment.

During American Indian Heritage Month, members volunteer at a powwow at the North Carolina Museum of History. 

Alpha Pi Omega is also involved with the Carolina Indian Circle, helping it execute the organization's events. 

“Being a small organization, we are all involved in individual projects, but we are transitioning to doing things more collectively as sisters,” Locklear said. 

One way that Alpha Pi Omega grows closer is through talking circles, which serve as a way for each member to vent their feelings and be heard. 

Chavis said the talking circles help members to speak about hard subjects, yet they can also be enjoyable and lighthearted. 

“Somebody could break down crying and then pass to the next person to talk, and then everyone’s laughing,” Chavis said. 

Chavis was initiated into a professional Alpha Pi Omega chapter in 2015. She said this is the first time UNC's chapter has had a sister serve as their faculty adviser. 

“I help them arrange event spaces and also help with fundraising efforts, but since I am also a sister, I get to participate in the fun stuff, too,” Chavis said. 

Chavis said multicultural organizations value a lifelong commitment more than most social Greek life organizations. She likes that the professional chapters partner closely with the undergraduate chapters and that they build a rapport. 

UNC junior Caitlin Martin said she loves the holistic sense of Alpha Pi Omega community. 

“It gives me a sense of empowerment knowing I have not only the sisters in my chapter, but sisters around the country,” Martin said, “And it’s a constant satisfaction that we support each other no matter what.” 

Since Alpha Pi Omega is an interest sorority, membership is not exclusive to Native Americans. Caitlin Martin said they have one member who is non-Native. 

“When they join, it’s usually because they have interest in supporting Native American populations or they grew up around a Native population, so they want to contribute and be engaged with the culture,” Chavis said. 

The sisters also get together to support causes that collectively impact Native American women. 

“Many people don’t know that Native American women have the highest rate of sexual assault, but raising awareness and working toward the betterment of our community can help us serve as an example for Native women,” Locklear said. 

Alpha Pi Omega recently doubled its UNC chapter’s membership size. This spring, the group initiated six new members in February, expanding their membership to 12. 

Martin said she is excited to pass the torch on to younger members and grow Alpha Pi Omega’s membership, since three sisters are seniors and graduating this spring. 

“Many of the new members came in being close friends with each other beforehand, and we know their light and presence on campus will be here for a long time,” Martin said. 

The sisters feel that their cultural ties make them more closely knit than a social sorority. 

“I think it’s more internal than other sororities which may focus more on partying, and our culture gives us more of a sense of interconnectedness,” Martin said. 

Martin said the sisters talk frequently, and they often hold group study hours to focus on their education. They also stay connected socially by planning spring break trips together. 

“We want to serve as an example for Native women who want to go to college, but don’t want to lose their Native identity,” Locklear said. 

Locklear underscored that she often grappled with the possibility of losing her Native American identity before attending college. Now, Alpha Pi Omega offers her a space where she can explore her roots while pursuing higher education.

“A lot of people see Native Americans as existing in the past," she said. "But we are moving to the future while living out our individual culture on campus.” 

arts@dailytarheel.com

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