Celebrating Indigenous Cultures: Honoring Native Identities on People’s Day



Northern Michigan University (NMU) celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day with over 100 community members gathering to commemorate the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples. The university had formally rescinded recognition of Columbus Day in favor of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2015, which was officially implemented in 2021. NMU President Brock Tessman emphasized the need to integrate indigenous wisdom into the university’s curriculum, sustainability efforts, engage with local tribes, and reduce financial barriers for prospective indigenous students.

More than 100 NMU community members congregated at Whitman Commons on Oct. 9 to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The event began with an Anishinaabemowin prayer, followed by a drum performance from Morning Thunder, a group comprising Center for Native American Studies (CNAS) faculty and locals. Noteworthy speeches were given by Native American Student Association (NASA) members, Kateri Phillips and Shelby Boggs.

Shelby Boggs, a Sault Sainte Marie tribe member, highlighted the importance of celebrating indigenous identities and cultures. Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates indigenous histories and cultures annually on the second Monday of October, as stated by the Student Equity and Engagement Center (SEEC).

Gwen Feamster, President of the Associated Students of Northern Michigan University (ASNMU), and NMU President Brock Tessman also delivered speeches. Feamster emphasized the importance of recognizing indigenous pasts, celebrating the present, and working towards a better future.

NASA petitioned in 2015 for the university to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which was officially implemented in 2021. The university also added a land acknowledgement sign to campus, recognizing the ancestral homelands of the Three Fires Confederacy tribes – Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi.

Tessman, in his speech, outlined four strategies to uplift indigenous members of the NMU community. He proposed integrating indigenous wisdom into all university programs, embracing it in sustainability efforts, engaging with local tribes, and reducing financial barriers for prospective indigenous students.

CNAS has offered an interdisciplinary minor in Native American Studies since 1992. NMU is the first and only Michigan university to offer a major in this field.

Boggs emphasized the importance of CNAS and NASA, as they empower indigenous people to unite and celebrate their identities. Phillips hopes that these efforts will help indigenous students feel recognized and supported.

The event concluded with a song from Morning Thunder and a healing march to the campus land acknowledgement sign. Boggs expressed the honor she feels in celebrating indigenous heritage.

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