Campus Effort Seeks to Preserve Native-American Heritage

For the first time, Mary Baldwin College will observe Native American Heritage Month with events throughout November , a reflection of the college’s increasingly diverse student population and commitment to exploring various cultures.

Karenne Wood, a member of the local Monocan tribe will speak at Mary Baldwin College in observance of Native American Heritage Month

The featured event will be a free, public lecture, “Burying the Hatchet: American Indians and the Practice of Peacemaking,” with Karenne Wood, a member of the local Monacan tribe (pictured at right). Her talk will begin at 7 p.m. November 14 in Francis Auditorium. The following day at 12:15 p.m., the Spencer Center will host a poetry reading and discussion featuring Wood, who is a member of the Tribal Council and director of the Virginia Indian Heritage Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and a lecturer at the University of Virginia.

In addition to Wood’s presentations, there is a small exhibit of modern Native-American pieces from the Southwest in the foyer of Grafton Library. At 7 p.m. tonight the movie We Shall Remain will be screened in Francis Auditorium.

Assistant Professor of History Rick Potter said he hopes MBC will make the observation an annual tradition.

“There has been a growing recognition that our Mary Baldwin community
is diverse, but often in ways that we may not realize,” Potter said. “An increasing,
but small number of our students are self-identifying themselves as
Native American.”

Professor of Philosophy and Religion James Gilman was also instrumental in launching the college’s observance of Native-American culture. In recent years, he started preparing a course on Native-American religions, and in that same time frame, he became aware of the heritage month.

“Most of my life I’ve had a personal interest in our Native heritage, and more recently a professional and pedagogical interest,” Gilman said. “That interest led me to talk to professors in the American Studies Program; they were eager to support and participate, along with some Native American students.”

“There always seems to be a shortage in representation of my people. We are either relegated to history or to the amusement of the masses as seen so often in the media,” said MBC senior and Oklahoma native Heather Thornton, who boasts Osage and Cherokee heritage. “Two years ago, when Chinese ambassadors came to visit my tribe’s reservation I was so elated by their visit that I kept the article from my tribal newspaper. We rarely ever get such important visits, that ultimately I wish us not to be forgotten. We are still here. We still exist, even if that existence is only in the barest of stages.”

Freshman Jasmine Chavis identifies with her heritage from the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. She shared with Dining Services several recipes — passed down through generations of her family — to incorporate into the November menu in Hunt Dining Hall.

“Native-American culture and history are subjects that are often overlooked in this country,” Chavis said. “I am honored to have my heritage celebrated at school because it is raising awareness about a dying culture. Hopefully, the awareness raised this month will inspire the students of Mary Baldwin to research Native history further, and continue educating others about the importance of my people.”


Morgan Alberts Smith '99 is the web producer and social media manager for MBC's Office of Communication, Marketing, and Public Affairs.