On Thursday evening, the Native American Student Association (NASA) held its first event of Native American Heritage Month. In an interactive exercise, students attending the event learned about the 400 years of colonization that the Wabanaki people faced at the hands of Europeans in the land now known as Maine. NASA leaders hoped that this event would be just the beginning of Bowdoin students deeply engaging with Native American histories and NASA events throughout November and beyond.
The event was facilitated by Wabanaki REACH, an organization that supports the self-determination of Wabanaki people through Restoration, Engagement, Advocacy, Change and Healing (REACH). Guided by Heather Augustine, a member of the Elsipogtog First Nation and community organizer, and REACH board member Penthea Burns, 25 students walked through the history of the forcible acquisition of Wabanaki land by physically standing on a cloth map laid out on the second floor of the Russwurm African American Center. As the story of colonization unfolded, the map representing Wabanaki territory gradually became more splintered and smaller in size.
NASA co-leaders Amory Malin ’24 and Kami Atcitty ’24 wanted the first event of Native American Heritage Month to center around Wabanaki history and the land on which the College rests.
“Coming into this month, we knew that we wanted to be able to connect and talk about specifically Wabanaki history just because it is so important, because this is where we are,” Malin said. “Obviously, Native land is everywhere. But we wanted to be able to really nail down this connection.”
Participants also learned about broken land treaties, outbreaks of Old World diseases, the forced removal of children from their communities to Indian boarding schools and other hardships that Wabanaki people have continually faced since first contact. Wabanaki REACH facilitators and students reflecting on the map exercise spoke about how significantly the history of colonization impact Native peoples and lands and the need for change.
“We’ve wanted to reframe Native American Heritage Month at Bowdoin around this idea of what it means to be Native American in the 21st century and how Native peoples continuously—especially the Wabanaki Confederacy—continue to do so,” Atcitty said. “The purpose of engagement and community events is to bring awareness around a lot of these issues that Native peoples face today and also just bringing these voices and perspectives to the table, which are so often marginalized within Western society.”
Through their upcoming events this month and beyond, NASA leaders hope to amplify Indigenous perspectives and deepen awareness across the Bowdoin community. Upcoming NASA events include a POC in STEAM gathering this Thursday, conversations with Penobscot leaders about sovereignty legislations, Indian Taco night and a book display of Indigenous authors in collaboration with the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.
“A lot of our events are about community engagement and about teaching and about facilitating a larger conversation because we need to. Because we need to bring recognition; because people need to know whose land they’re on,” Malin said. “Hopefully, if we can create a space where everyone understands these broader colonial contexts, then we can create a more aware community and more Native people would feel welcome in spaces like Bowdoin.”