Adventist Andrews University celebrated Native American Heritage Month

January 16, 2023 | Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States | Isabella Koh | Andrews Adventist University | Adventist World

During the month of November, Andrews Adventist University celebrated National Native American Heritage Month. This celebration recognizes the contributions and rich history of the United States’ nearly 600 tribes. The diversity among the hundreds of tribes represents nearly 250 languages ​​and includes countless individual personalities and experiences.

Adventist Andrews University is privileged to have more than 50 students who identify as Native American. Additionally, the Berrien Springs campus is located on land taken from the Pokagon Native Tribe of the Potowatomi Tribe. These both meaningful and difficult truths underscore the importance of recognizing and engaging with Native American communities within the Andrews community.

Michael Nixon, Vice President for University Culture and Inclusion, said, “Part of the work of our office is to amplify non-dominant narratives. One such non-dominant narrative is the journey of Native Americans and First Nations people, both in this country and in North America in particular. As a continuation of our work on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation through our TRHT University Center, we felt that one of the stories we needed to better tell was how this Native American story connected to our campus journey. »

In 2020, Andrews Adventist University was awarded a Title III Grant – Institutional Strengthening Scholarship by the United States Department of Education. One of the goals of this grant is to improve enrollment, retention and graduation rates for at-risk students and Native American students. The grant established an endowment fund and faculty support system to provide scholarships and mentoring to Native Americans and at-risk students. The program encourages ongoing meetings with the local Pokagon tribe with the goal of amplifying community voices and creating avenues for learning and engagement.

A recent event to support Native American students on campus was a meet and greet event on October 30, 2022. Padma P. Tadi Uppala, president of the School of Public Health, Nutrition and Wellness, and Yasmina Herinirina, Title III Scholarship Activities Coordinator, invited Native American students on campus to meet with faculty and staff. This meeting opened up new forums for discussion and built a support system on campus.

On November 10, the Office of Academic Culture and Inclusion, the Center for Religious Engagement and the School of Public Health, Nutrition and Wellness invited members of the Pokagon Tribe of the Potawatomi Tribe to present a university forum. Madelene Big Bear, member and representative of the Pokagon tribe, spoke to the Andrews community about the past, present and future of Native American tribes in the United States. He talked about the oral history kept by the Potawatomi tribe and their role as “fire keepers” – both sacred and literal fire. Being part of a community that spans many waterways, it once highlighted the diversity of the many population groups in Michigan alone.

He then described the disturbing history of systemic anti-tribal racism that continues into the 21st century, highlighting the extreme loss and genocide suffered by indigenous peoples. These included land confiscation, forced family separation, laws that deprived Native Americans of their personal rights, and physical crimes against property and people. “For all my knowledge and education, there is nothing that will protect my people from further expulsion,” he declared solemnly.

Big Bear offers many ways to support its audience, including engaging in difficult conversations, promoting accurate resources, and sharing personal documents. “This long history of struggle for existence is what makes me want to share it with you today,” he said. “You are part of our family. »

The program concluded with the reading of the Adventist Andrews University land acceptance statement. The document acknowledges that the land used by the town of Berrien Springs was acquired from land previously owned by the Pokagon Tribe of the Potawatomi Tribe during the 1833 Chicago Treaty. hardships they face after being driven from their land. Recognizing the land aims to recognize the past, honor history and diversity as the university moves into the future.

“The biggest thing that jumps out at me is that there’s so much we don’t know,” Nixon said. “This was told to me by a number of students and colleagues who participated in the forum. The presentation of Madelene Big Bear (Grand Ours) and the way she did it was very well done because she was very direct and honest, but she was also able to do it in an engaging way and invite people into her stories. We still have a lot to learn.”

Andrews Adventist University plans to continue creating opportunities to learn and celebrate Native American heritage and culture on campus. “We want to build on that and have more programs,” Uppala said, noting that the Title III grant runs for two more years. As a minority-serving institution, the university hopes to create as many opportunities as possible for its students.

“Our Indigenous Tribes are an important part of our community, although their history can often be forgotten, overlooked or overlooked. There is a certain importance in uncovering and bringing these stories to light,” Nixon said. “I think by amplifying their presence and their voice with the broader campus community, we hope that people will be more comfortable engaging on our campus. Learning and employment go both ways. We have a lot of good information to offer, but we also have a lot of good things to learn from others. »

Founded in 1874, Andrews Adventist University is an institution of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and offers more than 160 areas of study, including advanced degrees. Its main campus is in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA, and the school also teaches courses at colleges and universities in more than 25 countries around the world.

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