By Arlenis Marmolejos
Students discussed Native American poems inside the Multicultural Center.
(Photo by Arlenis Marmolejos)
The Multicultural Center welcomed all in honoring Native American Heritage Month with a poetry reading of indigenous voices on Nov. 27.
“Growing up, I was never taught about Native American culture in school even though it’s such a big part of our history,” said Indi Richardson, a junior environmental studies major and a multicultural activity coordinator. “Hosting events like [the poetry reading] allows people to learn about the history of the land and the people who came before us and give credit where it is deserved.”
The Assistant Director of the Multicultural Center, Lizz Elvira, distributed various Native American poems that sparked discussions about their rich traditions and history as well as meaningful connections amongst guests this past Monday. “I wanted the indigenous poets’ words to be heard out loud,” she said.
Elvira emphasized the importance of recognizing lesser-known poets, urging reflection on their words and poems to prevent their contributions from being “lost in time” and fostering a deeper understanding of culture.
Dawn Gibson-Brehon, an assistant professor of practice in arts management, encouraged her Fundamentals of Arts Management class to utilize the Multicultural Center as a resource and learning tool. “For all different art forms, it is good for students to be immersed in and learn more about the field and its history,” she said.
“Poetry inspires people to talk about different topics,” said Elvira. She proposed that delving into discussions of Native American poetry can influence artistic exploration in crafting “a play or monologue.”
One of Gibson-Brehon’s students, Aviva Harris, a freshman dancing and arts management double major, recognized her “minimal understanding of many Native American and Indigenous Peoples’ cultures.” However, she seized the opportunity to gain insight by attending the “very interactive” event and acknowledged, “It was the most I had ever been engaged in a poetry reading.”
Harris read aloud and analyzed the poem, “Evolution” by Native American writer, Sherman Alexie, where “Indigenous People ended up selling all parts of their culture to survive.” She added, “It saddens me to see this perspective of feeling like they had to sell themselves off to gain a place in this world.”
Having read “Gahé Dzíł / Mountain Spirits” by indigenous poet Crisosto Apache, Gibson-Brehon noted the significance of recounting history through poetry.
Indigenous ancestors prioritized necessity over excess having “used what was needed and didn’t need to have more,” said Gibson-Brehon. She explained that this practice contrasts with the contemporary desire for “bigger and more,” attributing it to “capitalism totally shattering” equity and respect in society.
Noa JaDae, a freshman undecided major in Gibson-Brehon’s class, expressed frustration with the lack of critical thinking skills taught in the American education system. “They aren’t teaching students how to think, they teach students how to memorize [information],” JaDae said.
“We have to be better at doing our own due diligence when hearing stories and seeking out the truth,” said Gibson-Brehon. “We don’t get enough of full perspectives and voices when we’re telling a story.”
“I have gained a deeper understanding of many of the Indigenous People’s oppressions that have continued in recent times, and also how others can relate to similar feelings of oppression being in their own minority,” said Harris.