During the month of November, Natives at Penn have been hosting programming to celebrate Native American Heritage Month.
NAP leaders have planned a month of activities — including Indian Taco night, “Reservation Dogs” watch parties, and beading and basket weaving workshops — to foster community within the group of Indigenous students as well as reach out to the broader campus community to raise awareness about Native American identities. NAP is a student-run organization representing Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native, and Indigenous students at Penn, which sits on Lenape land.
NAP kicked off their programming on Nov. 2 with an Indian Taco night. Students gathered for a meal centered around frybread – a North American indigenous dish – with various toppings. College sophomore and NAP Social Chair Nikolai Jawiyuga Curtis said that the event was a highlight of the month for him.
“It’s really nice to be able to connect to some food that reminds me of home and be able to share cultures and stories around frybread,” Curtis said.
Other Heritage Month events organized by NAP included a lunch with the Association of Native Alumni, a beading workshop on Nov. 9, and a storytelling event on Nov. 11. Later in the month, the club is holding a basket weaving workshop taught by Curtis, where he will teach attendees a Cherokee basket weaving technique to make wall baskets. NAP is also holding watch parties every Monday of the television series “Reservation Dogs” in their newly designated space in the ARCH building, and they will close out the month with another Indian Taco night.
Wharton junior and NAP treasurer Ryly Ziese emphasized the value of community during Native American Heritage Month. Ziese grew up in the capital of the Cherokee Nation, where Native Americans were the majority — a contrast to Penn.
“During this month, it’s important to me and most people within NAP to think about the community we have built here on campus,” she said.
Curtis echoed Ziese’s sentiment, adding that he needed to adjust to the smaller Native American population at Penn.
“One of the hardest things about being an Indigenous student at Penn is that we are so far away from large Indigenous populations,” he said. “Although we’ve been able to go to a number of local powwows and have been able to connect with the local community, it’s definitely a very big change.”
Curtis added that in addition to community with NAP, visibility for Indigenous students and identities is another focus of the club, especially during November.
“A lot of students at Penn don’t really know that Native Americans are still here and still in the modern day. [They] think of Native Americans as a thing of history,” he said. “This November is a time where we focus a lot as well on connecting with other people and on really making sure the campus community knows that we’re here.”
College sophomore Carlyle Cornell, who is the outreach chair for NAP, also spoke to the importance of visibility.
“Having a monthlong amount of time to have programming, and [to] try to get as much word out about the fact that there are still Native people on Penn’s campus and [that] we are alive and well and thriving, is really important to us,” she said.
She added that another NAP Board member is working with Penn Wellness to host wellness circles for Indigenous Penn students to discuss their Indigenous identities during this month, which they hope to expand into a year-round program.
Ziese said that the semester has been going well for NAP, especially with the club’s new space in the ARCH building and the addition of a full-time staff member with the Greenfield Intercultural Center. Cornell and Curtis both shared similar sentiments, with Curtis noting that NAP membership has increased dramatically this semester.
“We’re excited to have our spaces in the ARCH and the [Greenfield Intercultural Center] as regular meeting spaces,” Cornell said. “It’s such a big step forward, [and] it’s something we’re all very excited about.”