Symposium on the American Indian honors tradition, culture
TAHLEQUAH – Climate change concerns, preserving Indigenous languages and storytelling though music and art were just a few topics at the 46th annual Symposium on the American Indian held April 16-21 at Northeastern State University.
“This symposium has been a long standing part of the community,” NSU Center for Tribal Studies Director Sara Barnett said. “This is a space for everyone to learn about our people, to learn about our culture, to learn about our perspectives and why we feel certain ways about different things.”
This year’s theme was “Walking with our Ancestors: Preserving Culture and Honoring Tradition.”
“It means to reflect on the experience that American Indians have in terms of walking in two worlds. We have our tradition, our culture, but we also have to operate within mainstream society and balance those two things and integrate them when possible,” Barnett said. “Also, if you travel outside of Oklahoma people don’t believe that you’re a real Indian. They say, ‘we thought you guys were all dead.’ But we’re not. Our culture is here and alive.”
The symposium hosted several keynote speakers, including Dr. Daniel Wildcat.
Wildcat, a Yuchi citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, who has studied climate change for more than a decade. He used his April 19 session to present “More Trails of Tears: Intergenerational Trauma in an Age of Climate Change.”
“My presentation really focuses on the way that climate change is presently impacting Indigenous people around the globe and is likely to affect a lot more nations and Indigenous peoples in the next century,” he said. “We’re seeing people right now that are really looking at having to relocate.”
Wildcat said there could be as many as “200 million climate refugees by 2050” and that Indigenous people will be taking a “leadership role in the next century” to address climate change.
“The systems that have created the problem aren’t Cherokee systems. They’re not Pawnee systems. They’re not Seminole systems,” he said. “These are systems that came from other people and other parts of the world. I think it’s time for us to speak up and really live up to our caretaking responsibilities for this Mother Earth, and I think we can do so.”
The symposium also hosted smaller sessions on topics including cultural identity, lifeways, tribal research and language revitalization.
Cherokee National Treasure Betty Frogg, a Cherokee Immersion Charter School second grade teacher, brought her students to the symposium on April 18. She, along with NSU Coordinator of Academic Services Dr. Angelina Dayton, showcased how virtual reality technology helps her classroom learn the Cherokee language.
“I think it’s important because it’s what the kids know and everybody keeps saying, ‘technology is the future of learning.’ I think we’re going to be doing some grant writing so we can get everything that we need,” Frogg said.
Showcased on April 20 was Dream Warriors Management, a group of Native artists who uplift others with their creative talents. It consists of poet Tanaya Winder, as well as hip hop and rap artists Frank Waln, Mic Jordan and Tall Paul.
They answered questions about projects that inspired them and when they decided to pursue their passions full time before concluding with performances at the NSU Jazz Lab.
Winder, a Southern Ute/Duckwater Shoshone/Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations citizen, performed spoken word poems from her two books “Words Like Love” and “Why Storms Are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless.”
She said the Dream Warriors are “stronger together” and set a “family” example for Indian Country. “Just all of us coming together is kind of like a map of what Indian Country is and can be when it’s at its healthiest, like family. I think just seeing us celebrate our differences is what makes Dream Warriors so successful because people can see themselves in us, and hopefully that empowers them to follow their own path, whether that be art or not.”
Waln, a Lakota from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, followed performances by Winder, Mic Jordan and Tall Paul. His songs included “Born on the Rez,” “What Makes the Red Man Red” and “My Stone” with Winder. He said he hopes his success and that of his fellow artists will leave a “blueprint” for others.
“Hopefully it will leave some of the younger Native people here with somewhat of a blueprint on how to work together as young Native people to build something or our communities that will last past our lifetimes,” he said.