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'Invest in Indigenous education': UNC hosts series of events for American Indian Heritage Month

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The American Indian Center sits on Wilson Street on Nov. 6, 2023.

Dalton Locklear, president of the Carolina Indian Circle, said he doesn't think UNC appropriately acknowledges that the University sits on the land of the Occaneechi nation.

“American Indian Heritage Month gives us the time and opportunity to reflect on that,” he said.

The University is currently hosting multiple events in recognition of the month. These activities started on Nov. 1 and will continue until Nov. 13. 

The leading event is a keynote speech presented by University of Manitoba professor Niigaan Sinclair. The lecture is titled “Indigenizing the University: A Call to Action” and will take place on Nov. 9 at 3 p.m. in Hyde Hall.

Sinclair said his speech is about equipping Indigenous populations in universities with the resources they need, in addition to forming relationships with Indigenous individuals. Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations need to work together, he said, and universities should be the places to begin to educate the nation. 

“It might just be that Indigenous knowledge is going to save the world,” he said. 

Sinclair also said Indigenous populations are a key foundation of America, and that non-Indigenous people need to recognize these roots. Indigenous people have the most experience living in the lands they inhabit, he said.

“You have to invest in Indigenous education,” he added.

Marissa Carmi, associate director of the UNC American Indian Center, said North Carolina has a huge population of Native people and according to the center's website, the state has one of the largest populations of Native Americans east of the Mississippi River. 

Carmi said she is very excited about the events being hosted this month, including her anticipation of Sinclair's speech. She said because of UNC’s prominence in North Carolina, she thinks it is appropriate to celebrate Indigenous heritage at the University. 

The Carolina Indian Circle, which was founded in the fall of 1974 by UNC students to recruit and retain Indigenous students, also aims to celebrate American Indian Heritage Month. 

Filled with dancing, singing and free food, Locklear said the Carolina Indian Circle's annual cultural showcase, which will be held on Nov. 13 is the second largest event the circle hosts each year, following their spring powwow. 

Other events throughout the week include “Salish Ethnobotany for Community Wellbeing” on Nov. 9 and the "American Indian Heritage Celebration" on Nov. 11.

Though Indigenous studies are being highlighted this month, Carmi said students should continue learning throughout the year.

Misconceptions about Native Americans remain to this day, Locklear said. 

“Believe it or not, I don’t live in a teepee," he said. "I live in Granville Residence Hall."

The misconception that not many Native Americans are left, Carmi said, contributes to a real sense of invisibility. She said there can always be more Indigenous representation around campus. 

Carmi suggested the University host more Indigenous studies courses, hire more Indigenous faculty and include content about Native scholars in classes.

Locklear also advocated for more intentional efforts to grow Native American populations on campus. He mentioned purposeful hiring, tuition waivers and more acknowledgment of Native Americans on campus in general.

“The work of Native scholars and Native peoples across time does not have to be just limited to American Indian Indigenous Studies classrooms,” Carmi said. 

She added that she encourages people to bookmark the American Indian Center's website, sign up for their Listserv, and keep up with their events and activities throughout the year.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated the size of North Carolina's Native American population. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

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