In their third year co-running the Native American Student Association (NASA), Amanda Cassano ’22 and Sunshine Eaton ’22 are taking the lead in organizing events to celebrate Native American Heritage Month this November.
The first event, on November 9, will feature Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) in a virtual conversation with the Bowdoin community. Eaton, who organized this event, described it as a presentation followed by a question-and-answer session.
Haaland was one of the first two Native American women to be elected to Congress in 2018, and speaking with her has been a long-term goal of NASA’s.
“We [dreamed] of having one of the first Native women in Congress speak to NASA or engage with her somehow,” Eaton said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
NASA will host an event on November 19 with Inupiaq photographer Brian Adams, who travels throughout Alaska taking pictures of Inuit communities, telling their stories and working to dismantle stereotypes. Cassano discovered him on Instagram and was struck by his photos.
“You can tell that the way that [Adams] does his work is very soulful … he really connects to the people he works with for these photography projects,” Cassano said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Each of the two events interacts with different issues relevant to Indigenous communities.
“The Deb Haaland event really engages in current political issues … it engages in identity and spaces that are typically occupied by non-Indigenous people,” Eaton said. “The Brian Adams event engages a little bit more on the artistic side of what does it mean to be an Indigenous person.”
Citing Zoom fatigue and the fact that most NASA members are located off campus this semester, the co-leaders decided to focus on organizing two speaker events for this year’s Native American Heritage Month.
“Less is more… we’re taking that to heart this semester, particularly because by this point … it’s clear that a lot of people are burned out from Zoom interactions,” Cassano said.
However, in their third year leading NASA, Eaton and Cassano feel prepared for this November.
“By now, I think we have a huge amount of experience. We’ve learned what works, what doesn’t work,” said Cassano. “We’ve also been pretty organized just because we had … a heads- up that we were going to be remote this semester.”
Before Cassano and Eaton began as co-leaders in the fall of 2018, NASA was largely dormant due to declining membership. Since then, NASA’s membership and network have grown, and it has collaborated and built relationships with departments across campus.
In the last two years, the group’s goals have also changed. During Cassano and Eaton’s first year, NASA’s priority was educating the Bowdoin community. Now, according to Eaton, NASA is able to narrow its programming to events that are more for the enjoyment of the club’s members.
“[This change is] thrilling … because [Bowdoin is] moving in a direction where we can start to see that there’s more representation for Indigenous people on campus … [there is] more understanding of Indigenous perspectives and more willingness to engage in these perspectives,” Cassano said.
In light of this, NASA hopes to encourage more people to further engage by becoming involved with the group.
“[This year’s event planning structure] opens up the door for more club members to become involved at NASA by heading their own event,” Eaton said. “If they have an idea for a lecture they want to bring to campus, a type of event they want to lead, then that’s certainly an option, and us as leaders can definitely guide them through that process.”
In addition, NASA hopes to work even more proactively to make these new members feel welcome.
“Something I’ve noticed in our events in the past … [is that] some people will feel a bit shy about coming to some events maybe because they might not have any prior knowledge about Indigeneity,” Cassano said. “They might feel uncomfortable in a space that focuses on Indigenous voices where they haven’t been before, but we want to let people know that, you know, it’s okay to come,” she added. “As long as you come in with an open mind or respectful position, then we’re happy to have you, and we really look forward to engaging with you.”