The Native American Student Association (NASA) put on Bowdoin’s first Native American Heritage Month in November featuring multiple speakers and events. The program focused on intersectionality and outreach, as the club voiced concerns about low membership.

“Last year [the club had] six Native American students, and now it’s back to two,” aid NASA co-leader Dylan Goodwill ’17.

She pointed to NASA’s lack of a formal adviser and the absence of Native American studies in Bowdoin’s academics as reasons for the club’s low membership. The College does not have a Native American studies program, and there are no courses being taught next semester with “Native” or “Indian” in the title. 

“The only Native American faculty or staff member is JT Tyler, and he’s on security,” Goodwill said. “So he’s cool, we hang out with him. But … we just need more support.”

NASA planned these events in part to bring Native American culture to Bowdoin’s campus on its own terms. 

“We are tired of having to do these talks about cultural appropriation,” Goodwill said. “This is something that’s not about us in a Halloween costume, it’s showing what’s really going on… It feels like something for us instead of about us.”

NASA co-leader Rayne Sampson ’18 hoped the month could provide an opportunity for more students to engage with the Native community at Bowdoin.

“Many students who aren’t Native themselves feel a degree of hesitation about getting involved because they see it as a group for Native people by Native people,” Sampson said. “We’re hoping more people see that NASA is a way they too can get involved.” 

Goodwill said that with so few students, the future of the Native American Student Association is uncertain. 

She added that nearly every year, members of NASA have wondered if the organization would survive, and it always has. As she prepares to graduate in May and move back to the reservation where she grew up, Goodwill said she is proud of NASA’s accomplishments this year. 

“We’re just excited that it’s our first Native American Heritage Month at Bowdoin,” Goodwill said. 

One event was a panel featuring professors from Bowdoin, Dartmouth and the University of Maine called “Water is Life: Indigenous Lands & Environmental Justice.” The event was an attempt to engage with the ongoing protests at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), and also discussed other water issues, such as lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan.

Goodwill said that the pipeline affects Native Americans across the country. She has family members who have gone to Standing Rock to protest as well as friends who are currently there. 

“It’s hard knowing that I am not there,” she said. “Talking about the DAPL is a way for me to be the activist I want to be, but on Bowdoin’s campus.”

It hits close to home for her, as she is a member of the Navajo tribe who grew up on Window Rock, the largest Native American reservation in the country. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused the release of massive amounts of toxic wastewater into the Animas River, turning the entire river bright yellow. The Navajo nation filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging that the EPA failed to deal with the disaster and compensate Native American who rely on the river to farm. 

In Maine, the Penobscot nation has teamed up with the Department of Justice to appeal a court decision stating that the tribe’s reservation does not include the water in the Penobscot River. 

“[DAPL] is just a continuation of what has been happening on all of our reservations,” Goodwill said.