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Community Matters

The past, present and future all come together for American Indian culture at the 46th Annual Symposium that draws speakers and artists from all over the United States.

Article
Lindsay Morris
Photos
Courtesy
Posted
March 28, 2018

For many Oklahomans, American Indian heritage is an important part of their history, but it doesn’t stop there. It’s important for indigenous people to stand together and be highlighted not just as a symbol of the past, but to be represented in the future as well.

The past, present and future all come together for American Indian culture at the 46th Annual Symposium on the American Indian at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah April 16-21.

This annual symposium draws speakers and artists from all over the United States who speak on a number of topics encompassing dialects, the arts, heritage and more. And the best part — it’s all free and requires no pre-registration. You may drop in to as many sessions that interest you.

The theme of this year’s symposium is, “Walking with our Ancestors: Preserving Culture and Honoring Tradition.” Sara Barnett, director of the Center for Tribal Studies at NSU, says it’s paramount for American Indians to have a sense of pride in their heritage.

The past, present and future all come together for American Indian culture at the 46th Annual Symposium on the American Indian at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah April 16-21. (Photo: Pete Henshaw)
The past, present and future all come together for American Indian culture at the 46th Annual Symposium on the American Indian at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah April 16-21. (Photo: Pete Henshaw)

“It’s important to be an ambassador to the general community and not be afraid to share our perspectives,” Barnett says. “There was a time 50 or 60 years ago when people were afraid to showcase the fact that they were American Indian. Now, they no longer have to separate their culture from their identity.”

American Indians are sometimes left out of conversations about minority groups. However, the symposium is an opportunity for this group to come together and realize that although they may have been left out of some conversations in the past, they don’t have to be left out of the future, Barnett says. “Native Americans are still here preserving their culture and honoring traditions by incorporating knowledge of the past into present-day professional careers.”

When the event started in 1972, it was a one-day event, and it has gradually grown to be a weeklong gathering. (Photo: Pete Henshaw)
When the event started in 1972, it was a one-day event, and it has gradually grown to be a weeklong gathering. (Photo: Pete Henshaw)

The symposium has a number of national speakers and performances lined up including:

  • “Indigenerds Assemble! Native Americans in Popular Culture” presented by Lee Francis IV takes place April 18 at 9:30 a.m. “This is a clever play on words [indigenous and nerds],” Barnett says.
  • “’keetweenci naanatawiteeheeyankwi?’: Why do we research? The Role of Tribally Directed Research and Development in Language and Cultural Revitalization” presented by Daryl Baldwin April 18 at 1 p.m. Baldwin has worked extensively with the Miami tribe on their language revitalization and has great insight on how language and Native American culture are intertwined.
  • “More Trails of Tears: Intergenerational Trauma in an Age of Climate Change” by Dr. Dan Wildcat April 19 at 9:30 a.m. “Dr. Wildcat will examine the impact of inter-generational trauma and how things that are currently happening in our native communities will impact the future,” Barnett says.

The “must see” performance will be The Dream Warriors, who will take the stage April 20 at 6 p.m. The Dream Warriors are a group of young artists including Tall Paul, Mic Jordan, Frank Waln and Tanaya Winder. “They come together to support growth and healing in our Native communities,” Barnett says.

Winder is known for using the spoken word combined with hip-hop music to communicate healing to young people regarding issues that plague Native communities such as alcoholism and abuse.

Waln is well-known among Native American young people partially because MTV spotlighted him on Rebel Music. “When Frank performed here two years ago, people came from the Dallas area to see him,” Barnett says. “Frank and Tanaya are Gates Millennium Scholars. They are great examples for our young people.”

For those who enjoy film, the symposium will include a showing of The Old School House April 16 at 5:30 p.m. and a showing of Te Ata April 17 at 5:30 p.m.

The American Indian Heritage Committee holds a silent auction and luncheon fundraiser each year to support the symposium and other cultural events on campus. The symposium is also funded through a combination of NSU resources, grants from the Oklahoma Arts Council and Oklahoma Humanities Council, donations from tribal partners, and community support.

“The event has expanded since the early years,” Barnett says. When the event started in 1972, it was a one-day event, and it has gradually grown to be a weeklong gathering.

The conclusion of the symposium will be the traditional pow wow, to be held April 21 beginning at 3 p.m.

“We’ve received feedback in the past from people saying we should charge a fee [to attend the symposium], but we want community members to take advantage of hearing from these nationally-renowned speakers,” Barnett says. “We want to encourage students to participate as well.”

While many of the attendees are Oklahomans with Native American roots, anyone with an interest in the culture and history is welcomed. “It attracts a broad, diverse audience,” Barnett says.

LOCATOR
46th Annual Symposium on the American Indian
Northeastern State University | University Center
600 N. Grand Ave. | Tahlequah
offices.nsuok.edu/centerfortribalstudies/nsusymposium.aspx
April 16-21
See website for more details.