Campus efforts to celebrate Native American Heritage Month

Irwin Library releases Libguide for Native American Heritage Month with help from the Taskforce for Indigenous Engagement and Inclusion. Photo courtesy of Butler Libraries


In coordination with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and the Taskforce for Indigenous Engagement and Inclusion, Irwin Library created a LibGuide and exhibit to celebrate the history, culture and lives of Indigenous Americans for Native American Heritage Month

Junior finance major Camron Tomaszewski is a descendant of the St. Croix Band of the Chippewa Tribe and a member of the Taskforce for Indigenous Engagement and Inclusion. Tomaszewski worked with the library and DEI office to ensure the Indigenous peoples of Indiana were not being misrepresented. 

“We were kind of worried because there wasn’t really a collection of Indigenous knowledge just to pull from, so making a LibGuide itself was going to be difficult,” Tomaszewski said. “There’s no reservations in Indiana. So it’s difficult because you can’t just reach out to one tribe and say, ‘Do you have any knowledge you would like to share with us?’ So the LibGuide was basically about finding the right information from the right people, and then putting it to use here.” 

The LibGuide provides a comprehensive look into the lives — both past and present — of Indigenous Americans. 

Gayle O’Hara, the head of special collections in Irwin Library, and Sara Ward, the director of DEI for student libraries and the performing and visual arts librarian, highlighted the importance of celebrating modern-day Indigenous accomplishments instead of strictly engaging with history. 

“One of the things that I like about the resources Sara has is there’s historical links in there, but there’s also contemporary arts and creativity now,” O’Hara said. “I think a lot of times when folks think about Native American Heritage Month, they look just at the history and not the current, and there’s a lot of vibrancy and resilience and creativity going on.” 

Ward elaborated on the relevance of Indigenous peoples that still exist today by debunking concerns about ethnography. 

“There are often concerns around concepts like salvage ethnography, where the concern is that the impetus to go and collect information about peoples because they’re disappearing, but Indigenous people are not disappearing,” Ward said. “They’re here. They will be here. And in fact, we have members of different First Nation tribes here at Butler.” 

The DEI office also coordinated with Irwin Library to create a Native American Heritage Month exhibit, which can be found at the entrance of Irwin Library. 

The Taskforce for Indigenous Engagement and Inclusion, a nearly 3-year-old group at Butler, also contributed to the celebrations. Teigha VanHester, assistant professor of race, gender and sexuality studies and co-chair of the Taskforce for Indigenous Engagement and Inclusion, said the taskforce has worked to provide resources for the Butler community to learn about Indigenous peoples. 

“We developed a list of 10 resources that members of the taskforce who deal in Indigenous work would recommend for anybody interested in a more accurate portrayal or to start their own research,” VanHester said. “ … We have books and movies and all kinds of things that people who currently are doing this work would recommend as a space of illumination or a chance to understand Indigenous communities in their own voice and in their own interests.” 

VanHester later explained that the taskforce was limited in its involvement for Native American Heritage Month. This caused her and Tom Mould, a professor of anthropology and folklore and co-chair of the Taskforce for Indigenous Engagement, to postpone larger projects for next year. 

“The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion did reach out to us to plan some joint programming,” VanHester said. “However, since we are all faculty, it was in the thick of midterms and conference season for a lot of us. So Tom [Mould] and myself discussed it, and we decided we’d rather think about what to do for the next iteration in collaboration with the DEI office, but that it would be a detriment to just rush something out there for the sake of saying we have programming around Native American Heritage Month.” 

Despite the taskforce’s newness, they are developing numerous projects to expand knowledge of Indigeneity and reconcile with the history of Indigenous Americans. Mould unveiled the taskforce’s involvement in the potential creation of an Indigenous-focused Global and Historical Studies (GHS) course. 

“We are at the beginning stages of trying to develop a GHS course that would be on … global Indigeneity so that we could think about Indigenous cultures around the world, not just in a narrow Native American lens,” Mould said. 

Tomaszewski expressed his shock when he discovered such a GHS did not previously exist at Butler, but attributed the cause for such an oversight to the difficulty of finding an Indigenous professor and the associated concerns of teaching from a non-Indigenous perspective. 

“The worry is that if there’s a non-Indigenous … [professor who isn’t a] federally-recognized member of the tribe teaching it, then it feels a little strange,” Tomaszewski said. “Because unless we have solid input from a real group to communicate to the professor, how do we know it’s the right information to be shared, it’s in the right light … and story?” 

Tomaszewski encourages students to utilize the incredible resources and education Irwin Library and the faculty, staff and students who make up the Taskforce for Indigenous Engagement and Inclusion offer. 

“Anyone who’s interested, don’t be afraid to reach out and try to learn more because that is the other part of how we’re going to grow and go further together,” Tomaszewski said.


Related posts