On Nov. 1st, a panel of speakers from American Indians Reaching for Opportunity took to the stage of the Laird Room in the Dreyfus University Center to share stories of their culture and experiences, as well as to answer the student body’s questions about cultural issues surrounding Native peoples.
The event was an installment of Coffee and Culture, a diversity-driven lecture series hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Campus Activities and Student Engagement (CASE).
The student speakers began the night with a moment of silence out of respect for UWSP’s use of ancestral Ho-Chunk and Menominee lands, as well as mourning for the passing of Dennis Banks, an Ojibwe activist, lecturer and author. After introducing themselves, including a brief salutation in their native tongue, the panelists dispersed among the crowd to engage in small-group discussions with attendees.
Each group of roughly 20 attendees spoke with two or three panelists each and were given a small basket of prompts on printed slips to begin conversation. Discussion topics ranged from current political issues, such as the use of Native apparel and imagery as Halloween costumes and athletic mascots, to the personal experiences of the panelists and the cultures of their tribes.
Addressing the crowd at the end of the night, student speaker Brianna Roehrborn said, “As time passes, Native Americans are considered to be historical figures as opposed to being groups of actual people. We are not savages. Our regalia are not costumes.”
Samantha Barnum, Student Leadership Coordinator for CASE, said, “I think a lot of people, myself included, hold misconceptions about the Native American Culture. This program is going to allow us the chance to sort of debunk and unpack those misconceptions around the Native American Culture with students who are Native American.”
Bethany, one of the attendants, said “I had a good time, and I liked that we heard their stories. It wasn’t just a presentation about it, we heard their actual life experiences.”
Another attendant, Maddi, praised the credibility of the speakers and their experience, saying how she liked that the panelists “were actual people that are living it, rather than having a teacher talk about it.”
At the end of the night, the panelists told attendants that the best way to be an ally to Native-American students is to be kind, to treat everyone with respect and not to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. They also mentioned that they are always looking for volunteers to put together their yearly powwow, which is hosted the first weekend of every May.
The remaining Coffee and Culture presentations for the fall 2017 semester are “Intersectional Feminism,” hosted by the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center on Nov. 15, and “Let’s Take a Walk: Diversity in Action,” on Nov. 29th, each taking place in the Laird Room in the DUC at 6 p.m.