K-State holds sixth annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration

Lisa Tatonetti, professor of English at K-State, helped start the first Indigenous Peoples' Day event at K-State in 2016. (Archive photo by Dalton Wainscott I Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State’s Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance hosted the sixth annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration on Monday in the Student Union.

Alex Red Corn, assistant professor of education leadership, was one of the event moderators. He said one goal of the event was to raise awareness about modern experiences for Indigenous peoples’.

“We frame it as Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a way to make Indigenous peoples’ perspectives more visible because, quite often, they’re relegated to the side,” Red Corn said. “Specifically, modern experiences — current experiences — for native peoples are often not very seen or heard.”

Speakers from across the country spoke over Zoom and in-person about Indigenous agriculture. Red Corn, who also serves as the co-chair of the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance at K-State, said this year’s theme of “Food, Film, and Policy” connected well to K-State.

“We’ve been working to better connect Indigenous peoples’ experiences with the strengths of the university, which is an ag school,” Red Corn said. “So, we intentionally did this to try to, as an ag school, bring more visibility about Indigenous peoples’ perspectives into the ag-specific conversation and everything attached to ag.”

Red Corn said schools are not properly teaching students about Indigenous peoples’ issues.

“If you look at curriculum about what people are supposed to learn about American Indians from kindergarten through higher ed, American Indian perspectives — unless you’re in an anthropology or ethnic studies type field — America Indian perspectives get pretty limited,” Red Corn said.

Because students are not learning about these Indigenous issues, Red Corn said another event goal was to bring awareness to a broader audience beyond those who specifically study them.

“It’s really important to bring American Indian perspectives to people who aren’t just going into fields of anthropology or things like that,” Red Corn said. “So, trying to bring more visibility to the broader conversations about American Indians. For example, in this context, we have an emphasis on agriculture, food, film and things like that.”

Since the event’s theme changes every year, Audrey Swartz, a librarian at Hale Library, said it is beneficial to those who attend each event.

“I think it’s great that every year we cover a different topic, so if you come back and back and back, you get a really well-rounded view of Indigenous culture and life,” Swartz said.

Lisa Tatonetti, professor of English at K-State, helped start the first event in 2016. She appreciated hearing Storm Brave, a language teacher in the Kaw Nation, speaking the Kaw language in the opening ceremony at this year’s event.

“It makes me teary to hear Kaw in this place,” Tatonetti said. “For hundreds and hundreds of years, this was Kaw land, and to have a Kaw speaker introduce the program and speak at length in Kaw is essential to bring back what was taken. That’s part of what this program is about.”

Red Corn said having someone speak Kaw on campus is important for K-State.

“To have someone from the Kaw community to be able to speak directly to open up the ceremony is a really powerful thing if you allow yourself to think about that more complete context of our institution because Kaw land is what this institution is built on,” Red Corn said.

As a land-grant university, Red Corn said it is vital for K-State to understand its roots.

“As our institution takes pride in being one of the first land-grant institutions, it’s a difficult conversation to have to recognize that that land just didn’t come out of nowhere and that it’s attached to Indigenous peoples,” Red Corn said.

George Walden, sophomore in business, said he thought an event like this is a positive for K-State.

“I think it’s really awesome that all these people can gather and learn about something that’s pretty important in our lives and a lot of other people’s lives, as well,” Walden said. “I think K-State should feel pretty proud because holding an event like this is pretty cool.”

In all, Red Corn said K-State holding this event was something important for the university to do.

“We are really proud that K-State allows us to have some very specific conversations — sometimes that other institutions don’t always engage in,” Red Corn said.

More information about K-State’s Indigenous Peoples Day event in available on the Indigenous Faculty and Staff Alliance’s website.