Banquet style tables filled the Great Hall last Thursday as community attendees enjoyed a meal and performances from students and artists during the Carolina Indian Circle's annual culture showcase.
The CIC has been organizing these showcases since 2015, but hasn’t been able to host in-person events for the past two years because of the pandemic.
This year, the event was led by CIC Culture Co-chairpersons Evynn Richardson and Jalyn Oxendine.
Oxendine, a first-year and a member of the Tuscarora and Lumbee tribes, described the content and importance of the showcase event.
“Whether it’s dancing, storytelling, spoken word — there’s a lot that goes on within our culture," she said. "Bringing it out to showcase it for other Native people on campus, so we can be able to get together and enjoy this for ourselves, and also for non-Native people who want to come and get educated, or see some of the other stuff we do in the culture.”
The event began with an introduction and land acknowledgement presented by Shannon Ross, assistant director of scholarships and programming, a UNC alumna and a member of the Lumbee tribe.
Last month, the University issued a proclamation that recognized the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Though the proclamation also recognized that UNC was built on the land of the Occaneechi, Shakori, Eno and Sissipahaw people, an official acknowledgement has yet to be received.
After Thursday's showcase, Richardson and Oxendine blessed the food, and the performances began.
“It’s been the first showcase we’ve had since COVID,” said Richardson, who is a first-year and member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe and Nansemond Nation. "And not having one for the past two years, I’m just excited for everyone to showcase what they’ve worked on and what’s important to them pertaining to their indigeneity.”
Richardson herself performed storytelling at the event, sharing the Haliwa-Saponi creation story.
Other UNC community members performed a variety of dances, songs, speeches and poems.
First-year Lydia-Ruth Mansfield, a member of the Lumbee tribe and the CIC historian, and junior Zianne Richardson, member of the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe and Nansemond Nation and the CIC vice president, performed a song and a few spoken-word pieces.
During their performances, they also announced that they will be restarting the Native spoken word and singing group, "Unheard Voices."
The first guest to perform was Kaitlyn Deal, who was crowned Miss Indian North Carolina in 2020 and is a member of the Lumbee tribe. Deal presented her platform and sang a rendition of UNC alumna Charly Lowry’s "Brown Skin."
Other guest performances included Jared Massey, a White Mountain Apache youth leader, who performed a hoop dance and explained its significance.
Kaya Littleturtle, an artist and performer from Robeson County and member of the Lumbee tribe, also led multiple performances. Littleturtle closed the showcase with a series of social dances that he both sang for and explained to attendees.
Solomon Lowry, a junior and member of the Lumbee tribe, said the part of the performance that resonated with him most was a spoken-word piece. The poem is about Henry Berry Lowry, an Indigenous Robin Hood-like figure, he said.
“I loved it,” Lowry said. “I loved seeing my people up there. The one poem about Henry Berry Lowry was very strong to me because I’m related to him, so that was very powerful.”
Every performance was introduced in multiple languages with detailed explanations for attendees. This was intentional, Oxendine explained, as the event was designed to be open to all.
“These things are not necessarily closed practices so anybody can come to them," she said. "It’s just more so that people can come to know about us and see what we’re about. People say all the time that we are still here. Even coming to these events makes people more educated than they were before.”
In interviews with The Daily Tar Heel, both before and after the showcase, members of the CIC expressed that events like this don’t compensate for the University's lack of recognition of Indigenous history and presence on campus.
“I feel like the campus should do more with recognizing Indigenous people on the campus," Oxendine said. “They have a lot of space to take the initiative and say, 'We recognize that you’re here and we want to make this a safe space for you.’ Because right now it’s not a safe space for us.”
Similarly, Evynn Richardson expressed frustration that the only existing safe spaces were either student-led, or feel underfunded and neglected. She also said that she feels like American Indian Heritage Month has been virtually ignored by all non-Native people.
“I’ve gone this whole month just walking around and just like – all of us are celebrating our indigeneity, and you see everyone else and they’re just like, occupying space with us,” Richardson said. “Do they know how important this month is for us and how much we’re trying to hold onto this culture, and these traditions and these stories?”
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