Honoring Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month

Posted by Office of Diversity and Inclusion on Tuesday, November 1, 2022 at 6:26 PM PDT

Dear Campus Community,

As we begin Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month today, Seattle University affirms and recognizes the deep ancestry, rich culture, and sacred traditions of Indigenous People. Year-round, and during this national observation during November, Seattle University celebrates the immense contributions of Native people and their origin story in the complex history of our region and country. Seattle University also recognizes and reflects on the oppression and systemic challenges that have been placed on Indigenous communities throughout our nation’s history and still present today.  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. Building on last month’s recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we affirm, celebrate, and offer solidarity to our Indigenous students, faculty, staff, alumni, and broader communities.

Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month presents us with an opportunity to amplify the voices and various perspectives of colleagues within this community. We have invited two of our colleagues to share reflections on what Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month means to them.  In line with our LIFT SU principles, we believe that hearing, and affirming the diverse experiences among us offers a path toward solidarity and common purpose. We express sincere gratitude to Brooke Pinkham, Director, Center for Indian Law and Policy, and Dr. Christina Roberts, Associate Professor of English and Director of Indigenous Peoples Institute, for opening their hearts and sharing their stories and reflections with our community. We trust that you will receive their words with openness.

Brooke Pinkham
Director, Center for Indian Law and Policy

I’m often asked how folks on the outside can better serve Native people. As a Nez Perce citizen raised in the community of the Yakama Nation, and a lifetime of professional service to Tribal communities, here is some guidance: Always think of Tribes and Native people in the work you do, in the events you plan, in the curriculum you craft, and in your everyday outings - no matter the topic, subject, or place you inhabit.

When planning an event, even if not related to Indigenous issues, invite a Native person, or invite a Tribe to be a part of it. Don’t only think of Native people once in a while or feature only during Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month. Educate yourself about Tribal governments. If you’re looking to Tribes and Native people for guidance, give and do not take. Native values center healing, sharing and balance. Incorporate those values into the work you are doing. Teach historical accuracy, contemporary accuracy, and cultural humility.

When you’re out touring across what is now the U.S., notice places that speak of Native people in past tense. Notice how you write or speak about Native people. Is this how you write or speak about non-Native people?

Integrate yourself within Native spaces. Ensure those spaces allow outsiders. Come with respect and listening.

Do all these things, and places, such as academic institutions, become more accessible to Native people and in turn create stronger and better relationships with Tribes and a symbiotic reciprocity that benefits all.

Dr. Christina Roberts
Associate Professor of English and Director of Indigenous Peoples Institute

Dear SU Relatives,

There’s much my heart wants to share as we collectively look toward Native American Heritage Month, and I must begin by situating myself in this life. I am an Aaniiih and Nakoda woman (Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana) and a third-generation Urban Native who has lived most of her life in Western Washington. I also descend from settler-Irish and Puerto Rican folks, and I recognize that I arrive as a settler to the lands we share at Seattle University. Over the years, I’ve learned more about the responsibilities I have as an Indigenous woman and settler-scholar, and in the nearly 16 years I’ve worked at SU, I’ve directed my energies to supporting Indigenous students and sharing what I’ve learned, while also recognizing I am still a student in this life with much to learn about what it means to be a good relative to all of creation.

Over the next month and throughout the year, I invite you all to join me in the ongoing learning about Indigenous peoples and cultures who have been in relationship with the lands of this region since time immemorial, and I also recommend that you devote time to learning more about the remarkable efforts of Urban Native peoples who’ve called this region home. Please take time to learn more about the Lushootseed Research Institute and the work and legacy of Vi Hilbert. Read about Billy Frank Jr. and treaty rights. Recognize the activism of Bernie Whitebear and others who are now ancestors who fought for Indigenous peoples and rights. Carve out intentional space to recognize the incredible contributions of local Indigenous leaders, such as Derrick Belgard (SU alum), Colleen Echohawk, Esther Lucero, Abigail Echohawk, Jill La Pointe, Louie Gong, Claudia Kaufmann, Debora Juarez, and the many others who dedicate their time to enhancing the lives of peoples who call these lands home.

I’m sending good energies to our campus community as we collectively create spaces inclusive of Indigenous peoples, and as we embrace opportunities to learn more about one another and what can be done to create a just and humane future for our human and non-human relatives.

Resources and Renewal to Inclusion
Honoring the past, understanding the present, and co-creating a hope-filled future that reconciles tribal history and restores Indigenous knowledge, traditions, and stories is a necessary starting point. Thus, please also visit the Indigenous Peoples Institute’s website to learn more about the important and powerful work they are doing for our community. Additionally, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website offers a range of educational resources regarding Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month, as well as Zoom backgrounds to use to support and celebrate throughout this Heritage Month. We recognize the contributions of our 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 and the richness you bring to our university.

As we honor Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month, let us affirm and express our deep gratitude for the many contributions of this rich and diverse community. Let us also reaffirm our commitment to work against ongoing racism and violence against those in the Native American and Alaska Native community and to do our part to offer a welcoming and inclusive experience for all.


Eduardo M. Peñalver, President
Natasha Martin, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion