November is National Native American Heritage Month, and Native American students and faculty across the CSU are celebrating by sharing their diverse cultures and educating the public about local tribes and the challenges Native people have faced and continue to contend with.

"During the month there's a lot of local [events] to raise the visibility of Native people and to remind the mainstream public that we're still here and that we still practice our culture and we're revitalizing language," says Theresa Gregor, Ph.D., (Iipay/Yaqui), assistant professor of American Indian Studies (AIS) at CSU Long Beach.

American Indian Studies faculty and the American Indian Student Council at the Long Beach campus have collaborated to host events this month, launching November 1 with the installation of a public art piece called "Blind to History" by Craig Stone, director and professor of American Indian Studies.

Professor Stone used a piece of a yellow Long Beach State t-shirt to blindfold the "Prospector Pete" statue in the 49er Courtyard, a commentary on the genocide of California Indians brought on by the Gold Rush.

The campus also hosted Seri Comca'ac women from an artisan cooperative in the Mexican state of Sonora to raise awareness about displaced indigenous people who maintain their culture, language and identity. AIS professor Cindi Alvitre worked with American Indian community members to schedule the daylong visit. Students and faculty shared songs and dances with the visitors, who also brought some of their jewelry, woodwork, and baskets to sell.

The Decision to Celebrate Thanksgiving

These and other efforts across CSU campuses aim to provide more accurate depictions of Native people, including the diversity and complexity of their experiences, past and present. "The key is to broaden people's minds and not have them stuck in the stereotypes of the Pilgrims and the Indians on the East Coast, to ... open their eyes to learn about the Native communities that are in their own backyard," explains Gregor.

"I have students who are second, third generation Los Angelenos but have American Indian heritage, and they celebrate Thanksgiving just like everybody else," Gregor continues.

"But I know other American Indian families that don't celebrate Thanksgiving on that day as a form of resistance and instead do a 'friendsgiving,' or they have a day of  thanksgiving as a feast day tied to a particular cultural ceremony that has nothing to do with the federal holiday."

Some Native Americans also commemorate moments of American Indian resistance on the federal holiday. Gregor has friends from a reservation in San Diego who spend Thanksgiving weekend on Alcatraz Island, site of a 19-month occupation in 1969 by American Indians some of them San Francisco State and CSU Long Beach students to reclaim the island in the name of Indians of all tribes.

"They remember the work that people, including their own family members, did in protest that brought about so many changes in legislative policies, and that's their way to honor the work of the activists and community members really fighting for American Indian rights," says Gregor.

Meanwhile, Gregor and her family celebrate in November by combining their cultures. "We host Thanksgiving in part because we're such a blended family and my mother-in-law was really proud of her status as a U.S. citizen and I never wanted to take that away from her.

"I'm from the Kumeyaay tribal community, so I try to incorporate some of our Kumeyaay games and introduce Kumeyaay words to teach both sides of our family Kumeyaay cultural lessons, so it really is a blending of  traditions." 

Celebrating America’s Indigenous Culture

A sampling of events at campuses across the CSU during Native American Heritage Month

Guest Speaker:  "Celebrating Indigeneity"

Wednesday, November 15, 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
Cal Poly Pomona
Heather Torres (San Ildefonso Pueblo, Navajo) is a recent graduate of the Critical Race Studies program at the UCLA School of Law and is the UC President's Public Service Law Fellow at the Tribal Law & Policy Institute (TLPI), a well-recognized Native American-led organization that assists and collaborates with Tribal Nations and organizations nationwide.

Film Screening: "More Than a Word"
Thursday, November 16, 3 p.m.–5 p.m.
Chico State
A look inside the growing movement to change the name of the NFL's Washington Redskins franchise.

Film Screening: "Neemkomok'" ("She Returns")
Thursday, November 16, 3:30 pm–5:00 p.m.
CSU Long Beach, Multicultural Center

Film Screening: "Young Lakota"
Thursday, November 16, 6:15 p.m.
Cal State LA, University Student Union Theatre

This documentary explores the lives of young Lakota activists, against the backdrop of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, feminism and women's reproductive rights.

Workshops: American Indian Leaders of Today and Tomorrow (AILOTT)
Saturday, November 18
 CSU Long Beach

CSU Long Beach American Indian Student Council members, alumni, faculty and university student services and outreach representatives will host workshops to encourage Native youth to go to college.

Event: California Indian Cultural Awareness Day
Saturday, November 18, 12:00 p.m.– 5:00 p.m.
CSU Long Beach

Storytelling, traditional games, basket-making demonstrations and other cultural activities that
showcase California Indian culture

Event: CSUN American Indian Student Association (AISA) 34th Annual Powwow

Saturday, November 25, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

CSU Northridge

American Indian social gathering at which dances and songs are shared.