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Megan Red Shirt-Shaw kicks off Native American Heritage Month

| Friday, November 9, 2018

“Weksuye, Chiksuye, Miksuye … I remember, I remember you, Remember me” — Megan Red Shirt-Shaw


November is Native American Heritage Month. As part of a school-wide initiative to encourage dialogue, increase awareness and gain understanding of others, the Multicultural Student Programs and Services, Notre Dame Student Government and the American Indian Catholic Schools Network invited Megan Red Shirt-Shaw to speak on Monday, Nov. 6.

Megan is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota nation; she is an activist, writer and college admissions professional. She is the founder of Natives in America, an online literary publication for Indigenous youth. She has presented at colleges, universities and conferences nationwide.

Red Shirt-Shaw earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and her Master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in higher education. She was selected to deliver the Student Speaker Address at the school’s commencement. Megan is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development with a focus on Higher Education at the University of Minnesota.

As one of the less than 1 percent of self-identifying Native students currently attending Notre Dame, it was an honor to watch my hero speak about our cultures at my school.

Megan opened her presentation in her native Oglala Lakota language and gave her Lakota name, Canku Waste Win (Woman of Good Roads).

During her presentation, Red Shirt-Shaw posed three questions to the audience. First, whose land is Notre Dame on? Second, can you name five Sovereign Nation Tribes? Finally, what does the U.S. Constitution say about Natives?

For those that do not know the answers to these three questions, you are not alone. Nearly all of the audience members struggled to confidently come up with responses to these prompts. Answers to these questions are listed below:

  1. The University of Notre Dame is currently on land that was originally inhabited by the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi Indians. The Pokagon Band of Potawatomi is a federally recognized, sovereign nation that is primarily located in Dowagiac, Michigan, but can be found in other parts of Michiana as well. The tribe is nearly 5,000 members strong and is affiliated with the Four Winds Casinos (think South Bend Cubs stadium). The very reason why Father Sorin chose this location to start the University of Notre Dame is because Father Badin was already living and working here with Pokagon’s Band. More on the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi and their relationship with Notre Dame can be found here and here and here, but not on the University of Notre Dame’s website.
  2. Five Sovereign Nation Tribes is only 0.8 percent of the total number of federally-recognized tribes in America. As of today, there are 573 Sovereign Nation Tribes. These include (but are not limited to) the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi, the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, the San Carlos Apache Tribe of the San Carlos Reservation, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe of the Southern Ute Reservation, Seminole Tribe of Florida … A complete list of federally recognized tribes can be found here.
  3. The United States Constitution refers to American Indians as “merciless Indian savages.” This language has endured and remains a part of our most sacred government document. Other examples of harmful rhetoric describing American Indians can be found in athletics, pop culture, and film.

Additionally, Red Shirt-Shaw challenges the university to adopt an Acknowledgment of Country, a tribute to those whose land we are currently inhabiting, whenever there is a public gathering. This acknowledgment may look like:

“We acknowledge our presence on the traditional homeland of the Pokégnek Bodéwadmik / Pokagon Potawatomi, who have been using this land for education for thousands of years, and continue to do so.”

And takes less than a minute to say (try it!).

Lastly, as a third-party member visiting our campus, Megan was furious and devastated that the first building she walked through housed nearly wall-to-ceiling murals of the genocidal colonizer — Christopher Columbus — and the Arawak people kneeling at his feet. These murals do not accurately portray the struggle between the two parties, Columbus’s insatiable quest for gold and resources, the diseases that exterminated many tribes in Mesoamerica (and North America) or the Arawak people’s willingness to help those that were oppressing them. As Megan said during her talk, “If we can put a man on the moon, then we can remove those murals.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Native American culture and current campus initiatives, I recommend reaching out to the Native American Student Association of Notre Dame (NASAND) and the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN). Both organizations are happy to meet with anyone that is open to hear about our peoples’ stories of struggle, resistance, perseverance, and strength. We Are Still Here.


Zada Ballew (Pokégnek Bodéwadmik)


Nov. 8

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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