By Katherine Brzozowski
TOTUS Spoken Word Experience and the American Indian Student Union (AISU) came together earlier this month for The Native Roots Monologues, honoring November as Native American Heritage Month.
Students gathered for poetry and cultural dance performances, and learned about beading and quillwork from members of the Piscataway tribe.
The event, held Nov. 7 in Stamp, began by acknowledging that the University of Maryland sits on Piscataway lands.
“The soil you stand on today [has] the bones of my ancestors within [it]. Everywhere that we go, from our perspective, is holy land,” said Mario Harley, a member of the Piscataway tribe.
Harley said that although Piscataways do not have access to all of this land, they have a special relationship with it, as they believe its natural elements are connected to their ancestors.
“A lot of people are still unaware that the indigenous people are still alive or have a presence, but we are still here,” said Karla Casique, a senior multiplatform journalism major and president of AISU.
These people, Casique said, are teachers, friends and shop owners — they don’t wear traditional garb like the media portrays them, but they are here.
“Whose land you are on, whose tribal nation [it belongs to]…that knowledge has been erased,” Casique said. “Acknowledging the land is the first step toward awareness and asking those questions.”
Casique and several TOTUS students performed poetry, written to the theme of “sovereignty through solidarity.”
Poems addressed issues including gun violence, sexual abuse, perceptions of beauty, eating disorders, environmental racism and missing or murdered indigenous women.
This annual event is often the first time people find out about the indigenous presence on campus, Casique said. The theme stands for unity and strength, as feeling connected is the only way to effectively advocate for change, she added.
Cecilia Franck, a senior Spanish major and student in TOTUS, performed two poems at the event, and acknowledged the importance of those identifying as Native American to share their stories.
Franck said Native Roots Monologues was a good opportunity to bring a group of artists in solidarity together.
According to Max Yamane, a graduate student in ethnomusicology, he enjoyed the spoken word portion of the event because it elucidated some of the issues that native people face. He said giving Piscataways a platform to tell their own stories when talking about their artwork is essential.
It’s important to let the university know who they are and why they are here, and to start an open dialogue with students, Yamane said.
The artwork brought by the Piscataways featured a variety of beadwork styles and techniques, along with several furs. Harley explained that the pieces of artwork were composed of materials meant to honor clans within the Piscataway tribe, and that they typically incorporated animal parts.
The Native Roots Monologues is an annual event that has been celebrated by TOTUS during Native American Indian Heritage Month since 2014, said Naliyah Kaya, a coordinator of Multicultural Student Involvement & Advocacy (MICA).
This is the first time that AISU helped organize the event, said Kaya, who is also an advisor to AISU and a teacher of TOTUS. In the past, the Native Roots Monologues events have featured native rappers, musicians and dancers.
TOTUS students will be performing at ‘Mixed Monologues,’ an event in March celebrating Multiracial Heritage Month.