Led by two first years, the Native American Student Association (NASA) is recognizing Native American Heritage Month this November with speakers, food and a documentary screening. The group has the twin goals of deepening awareness of Native American issues on campus and building up its own presence after a lull last year due to lack of membership.
Guest lecturers have included Maria Girouard, a Penobscot historian and activist who spoke on October 24, and Lisa Brooks, a professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College, who spoke on November 2. Later this month, NASA will host a taco-making night and a film screening of “Dawnland,” a feature-length documentary that follows the progress of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
NASA co-leader Amanda Cassano ’22 hopes these events will pique student interest in Native American issues. As someone with Native American heritage, she had hoped to become involved with the NASA, but when she arrived on campus she learned it had “fallen by the wayside.” So she took over the leadership and, with co-leader Sunshine Eaton ’22, hopes to revitalize the group.
“I have plans for the next couple years,” Cassano said. “I hope that together, we can [find] people who are really interested in being involved in Native American heritage, who want to contribute to Native American communities in Maine especially.”
November marks the celebration of Native American Heritage Month nationally. The month was created to encourage recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the growth of the United States.
Cassano said one of NASA’s goals for the month was highlighting positive portrayals of Native Americans that are sometimes overlooked by the mainstream.
“A lot of times, the news … clouds how we see those communities as only facing negative issues. These issues should be acknowledged and treated with seriousness, but we should also see these communities for the beauty they have,” she said.
She highlighted the importance of education in addressing these issues.
“We need to create a legacy that we can pass on without shame to future Bowdoin students,” Cassano said. “We can do that by acknowledging that we have done wrong in the past and making amends to those wrongs by educating, by being more aware and by giving back to those communities.”
Julia Perillo ’22 was one of the students who attended Girouard’s lecture on the history of the Penobscot people in Maine after having read European accounts about the discovery of the “New World” in her French class. Girouard, a tribal historian and advocate for the Penobscot Indian Nation, also discussed the debate over land claims between the Penobscot and the state of Maine.
“[Girouard] urged us to continue researching these issues and listening to the natives’ discussions,” Perillo said. “Not only about the difficulties they face, but also about the beauty and perseverance of their culture despite centuries of unfair treatment.”
Brooks’s lecture, on the other hand, addressed the history of colonial New England and King Philip’s War, including the long history of atrocities committed against Native Americans.
“She illustrated to us how the Native Americans were treated ruthlessly by colonizing Europeans,” Cassano said. “In one interaction between the settlers and natives, the colonists burned down the native peoples’ village, [which had a widespread effect since] the Wabanaki people in the surrounding areas would come to that village to resupply on grain. Because that was no longer an option, many people starved.”
Benjamin Harris, director of the student center for multicultural life, diversity and inclusion, emphasized the importance of discussing these issues with the broader Bowdoin community.
“The things we’ve done haven’t been fair for all people, and it’s something we should think about, interrogate,” he said. “The more we know, the better equipped we are to change the future.”