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College professor, student reflect on Native American Day

| Friday, September 23, 2016

Every year on the fourth Friday of September, Native American Day is celebrated to honor the culture of indigenous people, past and present.

It’s a culture that’s very much a part of the local community, Aaron Moe, assistant professor of literature at Saint Mary’s, said.

“In Indiana and up in Michigan there’s the Pokagon Band and the Potawatomi tribe. They were here at the sustainability conference — and I had a chance to go and participate in a crow dance,” he said. “I think that there is a thriving community of Native Americans here in this area, and it makes sense that we should be honoring that day here as well.”

Moe offers courses in Native American literature and said he thinks the South Bend community should try to be more in touch with Native culture.

“Anything we can do here to circulate the stories and the experiences and the poems and the rituals of a culture is crucial today,” he said.

Senior Olivia Lianez said the day is most often celebrated in California and North Dakota, as native people were continually pushed westward by settlers.

“I think it is important to celebrate [Native American Day] because we are not a people of the past,” she said. “We are still a living, breathing community and culture. When people talk about Native Americans it is always in the past tense — as if we are extinct or fictional. We are here, and we are relevant.”

A member of the Pokagon Band, Lianez said Saint Mary’s has given her a chance to learn about her culture.

“We are located in Dowagiac, Michigan, today, but our land once extended to what is now downtown South Bend,” she said. “I started learning more about the history of my tribe and our culture when I was in high school. At Saint Mary’s I have had the opportunity to delve into even more research and have written several papers on my culture.”

Moe said when he teaches, he tends to focus on Native American writers who are still living.

“I think sometimes students have the idea today that Native American literature took place long before, but there are many writers who are alive today who are writing,” he said.

Additionally, Moe said he utilizes Native writing that deals with political issues.

“We take a look at an anthology that’s reinventing the enemy’s language,” he said. “It looks at contemporary Native women’s writings across the whole continent. That’s a crucial piece, and I think it’s important for students to recognize that Native Americans are continuing to write stories, write poems and to reinvent the enemy’s language.”

Another common theme Moe said he presents in his classes is that of “the Trickster.”

“I think the Trickster is the figure that’s crucial when we take a look at who has the power to create these social categories. And once the social categories are created, it’s the Trickster who upsets those boundaries and questions those boundaries,” he said.

“So if the student is interested in social justice and environmental justice, then Native American literature is a great course to take.”

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