Native Americans: a people unacknowledged

The truth about Native American culture told by a Native

By Hannah Louise Strong

At first glance senior political science major Dylan Hunt might simply look like a tall guy with a beard and long curly hair. You may see him riding his longboard around Winthrop University’s campus or attending Socialist Student Union meetings. But the most important thing to Hunt is his Native American heritage.

“I am Lumbee, a large majority of us live in Robeson County North Carolina,” Hunt said.

Hunt is forced to face different emotions when it comes to being a minority on Winthrop’s campus. “Being one of the few Natives on campus I feel two opposite emotions, one positive and one negative,” Hunt said. “The positive is that I’m able to be a part of the progress of my people. The negative is the fact that I am one of the few Natives here which results in many other negative aspects of my being here.”

Kinyata Brown, Winthrop’s director of Diversity and Student Engagement, said she is not sure why there aren’t many identified Native Americans at Winthrop. Brown said she has not personally worked directly with students who are Native American.

“To my knowledge, there is not a particular student organization that has been created for or by Native Americans,” Brown said. “Part of that probably reflects the low number of students who again identify as Native American.”

Misrepresentation and appropriation of Native culture

In November, Native American History Month, Winthrop hosted an event where students could make dream catchers. Hunt said another hard thing about being a Native American student is the events on campus do not honor Native culture.

“There is a fascination with appropriating Native American culture, where they take art from our cultures and use it for whatever fulfils their purpose. Making pipe cleaner dream catchers is not respecting our culture, it’s making something within our culture a trendy item and does not further the narrative on Native issues,” Hunt said.

“People don’t really understand what a dream catcher is and assign their own meaning to them. The issue isn’t only about the dream catcher in particular but rather the thought that making some fake Native American object is a way of honoring or respecting who we are,” Hunt said.

Recently Indian Country Today reported on a Native American student at the University of California Sacramento who was told by her professor she was expelled from his class.

Sophomore Chiitaanibah Johnson disagreed with her professor when he said genocide was too strong of a word to use when explaining Native American history.  Johnson said she was offended and didn’t respond at first but when she did the professor became volatile and soon ended class early.

Hunt said he has had similar situations in and out of the class setting. “There are countless times where I have had to defend my people’s history and the genocide of Native Americans that interrupted it,” Hunt said. “This happens in classes with professors and students and even outside of class these kind of interactions happen. What is upsetting about it is that this is happening at an institution for higher learning where I’m having these issues.”

Appropriating Native Americans in mascots is another dishonor to the culture. Teams like the Blackhawks, Seminoles and Redskins bring in millions of dollars with names they have taken. Hunt said using these names are extremely offensive to Native Americans.

“They are using our people and culture as a prop and doing so in a derogatory manner,” Hunt said. “For example, people do not realize the term redskin is a racial slur.”

The American Indian Movement

The history of the American Indian Movement states it was formally created in July 1968 after existing for 500 years without a name. AIM is committed to advocate for Native Americans and the racism they face. Throughout the years, AIM has protested and partnered with anti-racism groups to help raise awareness dealing with their inequality.

Hunt’s future plans for these issues

After graduation Hunt said he plans to get a teaching job so he can educate students on Native American history.

“I would like to see devotion to Native history, culture and modern issues in classes. I also think it’s the university’s job to recruit students that are underprivileged in the first place to make a positive impact on our world,” Hunt said.  “Generally speaking, what I would like to do for the Native American community as a whole would be to bring awareness to the issues and garner some respect for who we are and acknowledging that we are still here, not people of the past.”

“I want to move back to home to Lumbee land and make my way into the Lumbee Tribal Government,” Hunt said. The two things he said he wants to focus on would be strengthening Lumbee businesses and trying to improve the overall education, health, and well-being of his people.