November is Native American Heritage Month in the US. At Wellesley College, the Native American Students Association (NASA) and the Office of Intercultural Education (OICE) have planned a series of events to educate the Wellesley community and raise awareness of issues faced by various indigenous groups.
On Nov. 3, NASA, the OICE and the Education Department hosted Charitie Ropati (@charitieropati, @lilnativegirlinstem on Instagram), an education and environmental activist who is also a researcher and student at Columbia University. Ropati held a workshop about indigenizing education and creating curricula with indigenous teachings. Indigenous students and staff were also welcome to have dinner with Ropati prior to the event.
NASA Co-President Emma Slibeck ’24 was most excited for the event with Ropati, who they have admired since high school.
“Getting to talk to Charitie, who’s our age, and doing a lot of incredible work with very little support was really affirming of our experience here at Wellesley and what we’re trying to do. Charitie, by the way, is one of the coolest people I’ve met and Wellesley does not have an abundance of Native youth, so being able to connect with someone else, to hang out and laugh together and bond over shared experiences is really incredible and empowering,” Slibeck said.
Slibeck added that Ropati’s talk was especially relevant at the College, which has a massive gap in its curriculum. They added that Wellesley College should do more to address “indigenous studies as a curriculum from an indigenous perspective.”
On Nov. 9, NASA, in collaboration with various initiatives on campus, held a screening of the film “Manzanar, Diverted.” The film focused on women from three communities in the US that form an alliance to reserve Payahuunadü (Owens Valley), “the land of flowing water”, which is threatened by demand for water from Los Angeles. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the Producer/Director of the film, Ann Kaneko, and the Producer/Impact Producer, Jin Yoo-Kim. The Q&A focused on the removal of indigenous people and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, as well as how greed influences land use.
Julianna Escobedo ’25, NASA co-president, stated that the “Manzanar, Diverted” screening was her favorite event of the series so far.
“It was really profound to me. I connected to this event because I’m interested in film and talking about my community, and it was really close to where I’m actually from,” Escobedo said.
The next event that NASA and OICE are hosting as part of this Native American Heritage Month series is a talk by Megan Red Shirt-Shaw titled “Beyond the Land Acknowledgment” on Nov. 17. The talk will focus on how institutions of higher education can support indigenous students and communities after adopting land acknowledgements. Slibeck hopes that this talk will help continue the discussion surrounding Wellesley’s adoption of a land acknowledgement, as they noted that there has been a lull in conversation and activism since then.
Lastly, NASA will be hosting a cookout on Dec. 3 with music from indigenous DJs, including Escobedo. Escebado believes this event is important because it highlights Native joy, specifically as it takes place after Thanksgiving and National Day of Mourning. Slibeck added that members of the Wellesley community should use the break as a time to study indigenous scholarship.
“Don’t stop engaging with indigenous peoples’ teachings and experiences after November. This is a moment to pay extra attention, but it’s also worth it throughout the year,” they said.