Native American Milestones Reached
The NMU Center for Native American Studies (CNAS) is celebrating some significant milestones this academic year related to the history of American Indian students on campus. It was 40 years ago that the inaugural issue of The Nishnawbe News rolled off the press and Indian Awareness Week was first recognized. This also marks the 20th anniversary of NMU offering a Native American studies academic minor and hosting the annual pow wow. And the center itself was established 15 years ago.
The Nishnawbe News, with former NMU News Director Jim Carter as adviser, was “published for Indians of the Great Lakes area by the Organization of North American Indian Students of NMU.” It began in 1971 with a circulation of more than 6,000 and climbed to 8,000 by 1976. The paper was one of three major Native American publications in the country.
“The Nishnawbe News empowered Indian students and showcased their voice,” said April Lindala (Center for Native American Studies). “The content was nationally oriented, with articles on federal policy and activism, for example. Students interviewed folks on campus and elsewhere. It really put NMU on the map in terms of American Indian awareness.”
Decreases in funding halted the publication in 1983. The name transitioned to Anishinaabe News when it returned in 2001 as an online newsletter produced by the staff of the Center for Native American Studies. In October 2005, it made its comeback as a student-run publication, offered in both hard copy and as an online PDF. Anishinaabe News is published on a sporadic schedule based on the availability of student contributors and the editorial focus has narrowed to content about NMU and the central Upper Peninsula.
Indian Awareness Week morphed into Native American Heritage Month each November by virtue of a 1991 proclamation signed by President George H.W. Bush. Click here to see next November's series of events at NMU in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.
According to A Sense of Time: The Encyclopedia of Northern Michigan University by Russ Magnaghi (History), there were 23 American Indian students on campus in 1971 (compared with 218 in the 2011 fall student profile from Institutional Research). As the population increased, special courses in anthropology and history were developed. A Native American studies program was drafted on paper a short time later, but not approved. It was not until 1991 that discussion began about the possibility of establishing a center dedicated to Native American studies.
“As content built up to courses, courses built up to the academic minor, which was directed by [English professor] Melissa Hearn," said Lindala. "And that paved the way for a center to oversee the minor. The center was established in 1996.”
In addition to its academic mission, the center in Whitman Hall promotes community outreach. It hosts the U.P. Indian Education Conference and the Indigenous Earth Issues Summit on alternating years in the fall, a College Prep Medicine Wheel Academy that introduces high school students to health care fields and summer educational programs that introduce American Indian youth to the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
As a broadcasting major at NMU, Lindala joined the only student group representing her ethnic heritage. It wasn't the Native American Students Association of today, but the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. The restrictive name prevented some from joining, but Lindala and other members organized the first “Learning to Walk Together” pow wow in 1992.
“It became a unifying effort of the student group and underlined the marriage between academics and culture. It also gave non-Native students an opportunity to be introduced to a living culture. The pow wow is a public, community event. It’s a celebration of life through song, dance and feasting. The drums represent the heartbeat of the people and the dances honor those who can no longer dance. For Native American students, the pow wow celebrates who they are on campus and Native alumni consider it their homecoming.”
The 20th annual “Learning to Walk Together” pow wow will be held March 17-18.