Honoring Native American Alaska Native Heritage Month

Posted by Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Natasha Martin, JD on Tuesday, November 2, 2021 at 2:53 PM PDT

I pointed to the sun and repeated what the voice had said to me.  She didn’t try to explain it. She just told me to keep the vision, believe and hold onto it.  

- Jerry Chris Elliott-High Eagle 
NASA Physicist and co-author for Senate Joint Resolution 209 

Greetings Seattle University Community, 

We begin November with an opportunity to pay tribute to the rich ancestry, diverse culture, and sacred traditions of Indigenous People during Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion invites your reflection on the vast contributions of Native people, as well as the numerous systemic challenges that continue to impede the vitality of Indigenous communities in our region and around the country. This national observation derives from what began as American Indian Day in 1915, then American Indian Week in 1986, transitioning to a month-long celebration in 1990 and designated by President George H.W. Bush to be observed during November, with a proclamation issued annually since 1995. Last month, President Peñalver sent a message on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and we extend those sentiments this month – to affirm, celebrate, and offer solidarity to our Indigenous students, faculty, staff, alumni, and broader communities.   

We acknowledge the University’s connection to the land upon which it sits and we honor the ancestral connections of the Duwamish people and Coast Salish Elders. Our regard for and engagement with the complexities of Indigenous and tribal history must be genuine and persistent toward understanding historical takings – of land, language, and livelihood – endured by Native peoples. As a Jesuit and Catholic University, we hold a special obligation to deepen understanding, reconcile, and support efforts to dismantle the painful legacy of American colonization including present-day manifestations facing Indigenous communities – from recent revelations of thousands of unmarked graves of Indigenous children and suffering in Indian boarding schools, near silence of missing and murdered Native women and children, to the pandemic’s disproportionate impact exacerbating inequities in access to quality healthcare and housing, to name a few. President Peñalver’s message to the campus on Indigenous People’s Day calls for this intentionality of reflection and purpose, “As a Jesuit Catholic university, we are on a journey to understand and reconcile the participation of our own broader community in past injustices.” We are grateful to our students, alumni, community partners, and academic institutes for leadership in advancing the dialogue of Indigenous rights and culture, and sharing scholarship with the SU campus and beyond. Last week, our Indigenous Peoples Institute hosted its 2nd Annual Honoring Indigenous Voices event, a beautifully woven evening of storytelling led by our students creating space for authentic sharing and community building. Watch Honoring Indigenous Voices: Interweaving the Work of Storytelling and its Relationship to Inner Growth, here.  

What does it mean to celebrate Native American and Alaska Native culture in 2021? We bring our critical thinking and empathy to question and disrupt incomplete narratives of Native identities, some of which reflect racialized and gendered stereotypes. And, we embrace the many Indigenous sources, as well as initiatives such as Since Time Immemorial: Tribal Sovereignty in Washington State, a tribally-developed K-12 curriculum adopted in 2015, and endorsed by all federally recognized tribes in the State. We express gratitude for the historical, cultural, and linguistic teachers who fight to preserve Indigenous knowledge including the late taqᵂšǝblu Vi Hilbert. Additionally, we celebrate impactful leaders including the appointments of Deb Haaland, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and Seattle attorney, Honorable. Lauren J. King recently confirmed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington and the first Native American federal judge in Washington state.  

At Seattle University, we seek to elevate Indigenous experiences through education and community building with the efforts of the Indigenous Peoples Institute, Center for Indian Law and Policy, and student leadership through clubs and organizations including the SU Indigenous Student Association, SU First Nations, Hui O Nani Hawai’i Club, and Native American Law Students Association. We also enjoy expressions of Indigenous partnership in the dedication of Vi Hilbert Hall in September 2018 and the captivating murals in the Student Center, as examples. Join us in living our commitment to amplify and affirm Indigenous voices on campus. Students, faculty, and staff are invited to take part in community-based events scheduled throughout the month. Please visit the Native American/Alaska Native Heritage Month webpage, for resources for self-learning. We’ll continue to update the website. If you or your unit is hosting an event, please email the details to Marquinta Obomanu, the ODI Executive Coordinator at mobomanu@seattleu.edu. Additionally, thanks to MarCom’s partnership, there are Zoom backgrounds you can consider using throughout the month. This month’s image features a blanket that gracefully hangs in the Indigenous Peoples Institute. 

We invite you to take time this month to pause, celebrate, and reflect upon the contributions of our Indigenous communities, and the diverse cultures, rituals, traditions of Native Peoples and tribes. As we work toward building the equitable, just, and thriving community we desire, let us recommit to growing collective knowledge and extending our hands and hearts throughout this month and beyond.  

In solidarity,  

Natasha Martin, J.D. 
Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion