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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Indigenous students start new cultural club

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Students have come together to form a space for something they perceieve is lacking on campus: a place for the sharing of indigenous voices, cultures, and pride. Freshmen Alex Portnow, Rae Benjamin, and Malia Molina are all involved with the creation of Carleton’s Indigenous Peoples Alliance, or IPA.

The club is defined now by Benjamin as “a cultural community for students who identify with an indigenous group, anywhere around the world, or people who are interested in indigenous culture, to share with each other what it means to be indigenous through different cultural objects and experiences.” CSA approved the group’s charter at its recent meeting.

All of these students and others felt a need for a space like this on campus in several different ways. They say that there was a definite need for community and connection, but also for the sharing of usually unrepresented history and culture.

Portnow said, “I don’t know about other states, but Washington State only recently made it so that schools have to teach about Native American history. Still, even my roommate didn’t know about the boarding schools that native children were sent to in order to ‘kill the Indian and save the man.’” The lack of knowledge about native history even in the United States stood out to her.

This lack of teaching about indigenous lives is also present at Carleton, where Benjamin noted that “as far as I’m aware, there are only two courses that deal specifically with Native American cultures and religions.” Religion professor Michael McNally, who teaches those courses, further pointed out a lack of regular faculty members who themselves identify as indigenous.

Both Portnow and Benjamin realized there was a lack of indigenous voices being heard on campus, but knew that they could change that. Benjamin visited Colorado College, where ”they have a very large and public group. Native American is one of the least recognized ethnicities in the US, but they were so present on campus, which drew me to the college as a self-identified Native American person.”

Coming to Carleton, Benjamin knew that she wanted that space on her own campus. Portnow, too, had that idea: “My sister went to Dartmouth and did all of the Native American programs there and lived in the Native American House. I didn’t know why there weren’t any of those programs at Carleton.” And so, they decided to create those programs here on their own.

Initially, Portnow wanted to create an interest house like the one at Dartmouth, and so Benjamin said, “if we’re going to start a house, we should start a club!” Both a club and a house were important in order to “bring the culture into the school and to have that support for one an- other,” Portnow said.

They began work with several different offices and individuals on campus starting at Office of Residential Life’s Interest House Fair. While a house is not possible for the coming year, the office has worked with the interested students in drafting a charter and giving offers of suites on campus that could serve as a preliminary space.

Dean of Students Hudlin Wagner brought up the point to Portnow that being indigenous is not an “interest,” but rather “who you are.” Still, having a house continues to be a real possibility and Wagner has begun to work closely with the group to make their idea a reality.

OIIL, The Dean’s Office and Residential Life are just a few offices on campus that are providing support for IPA. Faculty and staff support has also remained important. McNally, who has agreed to work with the group as a faculty advisor, noted that it “can be important for indigenous students to have a place where they can connect with each other and with cultural teachers and elders, especially in areas that can be hostile to their groups.”

This is important particularly on a college campus and in any higher education institution. McNally said, “it is important particularly for indigenous students to have a space to connect indigenous knowledge, identity, and other similar things with their academic and social life.” Even just with student-run programming on campus, this can be fur- thered.

The now-official group has had two meetings so far and continues to work with the administration to move forward with a living situation to provide a space for students of any identity who are interested in any type of indigenous culture. They also hope to host activities that teach about native foods and languages, showcase dances and other perfor- mances, and bring in speakers.

Portnow hopes to reach out to and work with College Horizon, a college admissions program for native students, to attract more indigenous students to Carleton. With the new club and house, they will be able let applicants know that “not only do Stanford and Dartmouth have these programs, but Carleton does, too.”

While they work toward these future plans that will begin to be realized next term, the space will remain important for students involved.

Benjamin said, “I know I don’t look native, and it’s weird because you sometimes don’t feel like you’re going to be accepted by other natives, but you also don’t feel like you belong elsewhere. We want people who do identify as native to feel comfortable coming to our meetings and saying ‘this is who I am,’ and showing us.” The meetings are open to all who are interested in being a part of this sharing experience.

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