Willamette celebrates indigenous people

by Jennifer Johnson,

Lectures, presentations and a film help commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

  • Black and white photo of Winona LaDuke speaking before a crowd
    Winona LaDuke, an author and environmentalist who lives in northern Minnesota, will be featured during Willamette’s celebration of indigenous people in October. She'll also deliver the 2018 Atkinson Lecture on Oct. 22.

Native American environmentalist, economist and writer Winona LaDuke is headlining Willamette’s upcoming celebration of indigenous people.

LaDuke, a rural development economist who works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, is included in the university’s effort to recognize indigenous people through lectures, a film and presentations throughout October. She’s also the speaker at this year’s Atkinson Lecture — Willamette’s premier speaker event — at 7 p.m. on Oct. 22 at Hudson Hall.

A diverse group of organizations — Native American Programs and the Native and Indigenous Student Union (NISU), the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Hallie Ford Museum of Art — collaborated on several events to support Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 8.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day has replaced Columbus Day in dozens of cities nationwide since 1992. Willamette is following that tradition, says Vice President for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Jade Aguilar.  

“The story that gets told about discovering America ignores the many, many indigenous people who died and who lost their land,” she says. “We want to turn that around and honor the rich and vibrant Native communities who continue to thrive and contribute to American culture.”

NISU has long celebrated the holiday at Willamette. NISU leader Adrianna Nicolay ’19, an environmental science major, says events this year “acknowledge the presence and experiences of our Native and indigenous students.”

She says, “I hope the event will create a path toward cultivating deeper, meaningful relationships with indigenous nations in the Pacific Northwest, particularly the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz.”

Willamette’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day kicks off with free cake served Oct. 8 from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. in the Putnam University Center lobby and at Goudy Commons from 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

Members of the new women’s lacrosse team, who requested to be part of the event, and NISU will serve the cake.

At 7 p.m. in the UC Alumni Lounge that same day, Senior Lecturer in History Jennifer Jopp and Nicolay, who wrote the land statement, will present a lecture, “Rethinking Willamette’s Early History: Problems and Possibilities,” as part of a Liberal Arts Research Collaborative project. They are also part of a group working on a statement recognizing the land's original inhabitants. 

Jopp says the LARC grant project, “Land and Landscape in the History of Willamette University,” grew out of a shared interest in learning more about the history of the institution.

A joint effort by faculty and students in the biology and history departments, the project studies plant and animal life, the history of the university’s landscape and also takes a new look at Jason Lee, a missionary, Pacific Northwest pioneer and a central figure in the early history of Willamette.

Nicolay researched the experiences of indigenous youth in the early mission institutions, while Olivia Fields ’20, a history major, studied the acquisition of the land.

Jopp says, “We are also asking: What is the story that we tell about ourselves? What can the historical record illuminate about that story?”

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