In Honor of the Lenape People

October 10, 2016

A guest post from the Native American Council at Columbia, on their organization and an historic plaque on campus

Photos of the event on the University Life Facebook

In recognizing the Lenape today, Columbia University has created a historical moment in making this campus more welcoming and inclusive to all current and future Native and Indigenous scholars, faculty, and staff. While NAC’s current population does not represent many Lenape people, the climate for all Indigenous students has become a safer space indeed through this acknowledgement. This plaque, sponsored and approved by the University, represents a willingness to recognize and validate the way traditional homelands and community are thought about by Indigenous peoples. We plea to our allies and supporters to continue making, naming and centering spaces of support for Indigenous peoples and all communities of color and marginalized voices on campus.

The Native American Council seeks to recognize and honor as many indigenous experiences that exist beyond our walls, including those that we as students are unable to always represent. The Lenape plaque is one small yet permanent way in which we as a community here at Columbia hope that Native people, specifically those who still call this island their traditional home, can be centered. Our hope as Native and Indigenous scholars is that this plaque sets a precedent for Native and Non-native scholars to respect and honor the Indigenous people who live and have lived here. 

About the Native American Council at Columbia 

The Native American Council at Columbia University is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year; the organization was founded in 1996 and originally recognized as a student group through Barnard College. Our community welcomes all students who identify as Indigenous and allies, and therefore our organization represents many different nations, bands and communities year-to-year. Our group meetings are held weekly and we are inclusive to all schools, including Indigenous graduate students who often seek out support and an inclusive space from the Native American Council.

The organization sustains itself and grows primarily through recruitment of Native prospective students from current students’ home communities and those who visit campus on admitted-student weekends (such as Days on Campus and Perspectives on Diversity). The Office of Undergraduate Admissions has supported our efforts to recruit more Indigenous students—students in the Council (through avenues such as the Recruitment Committees among others) are given direct opportunities to call admitted Native students during the yield period, write cards to Native students, host visiting prospective students, and recruit in their home communities through the Alma Mater program. 

On Intersectionality and Indigeneity

We like to emphasize for our allies that we are not a monolith in our national affiliations, our cultural practices, our spiritualties, our status or enrollment circumstances, or our political beliefs and interests — different Indigenous peoples may share similar narratives of dispossession and struggle, but ‘Native American’ does not connote a singular group of interests, experiences and beliefs. We are an incredibly diverse organization that celebrates intersectionality and multifaceted conceptions of what indigeneity means. We are not a community that can necessarily speak to or educate other community members on all Indigenous issues, and we will always default to the knowledge and experiences of the Indigenous community that has stakes in a specific issue. 

On Sharing Goals, Progress and Process 

The Lenape plaque initiative was started as a petition in 2013 by Julian Noisecat (CC’15). The allied undergraduate community was supportive of the project, but the initiative seemed a distant dream until September 2015, when co-political chairs Tristan Stidham and Noah Ramage (both CC’17) revived the project with another petition. They also launched a photo campaign last Indigenous Peoples' Day, which garnered much support over social media and attracted the attention of the University's governing boards. 

The initiative became widely recognizable across diverse supportive communities at Columbia with the hashtag #RecognizetheLenape. Office of Multicultural Affairs Dean Melinda Aquino, the adviser of the Native American Council, sought information on the next steps that could be taken. Over the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters, the NAC board began working with the Office of University Life, specifically Executive Vice President Suzanne Goldberg and Associate Vice President Ixchel Rosal, on a proposal to present to the Board of Trustees for approval. 

We began by sharing our goals with our adviser, and always putting petitions, research, proposals, etc. in writing. Upon garnering support from fellow students, we had plenty of opportunity to receive and incorporate feedback on what language or tactics were most impactful in meetings with staff from larger offices. 

A big part of getting the plaque approved was verifying the message that we intended to permanently convey to the University community. NAC reached out to Lenape/Delaware/Munsee communities for their guidance on the language for the plaque and compiled research for an annotated bibliography to be presented at the Board of Trustees meeting the following summer. In June 2016, the plaque was approved and it was to be funded by the University. 

Support and Service in the Community

The Native American Council wishes to increasingly build a service-oriented relationship to the local Indigenous community. The Native American Council’s annual powwow is currently the only powwow held yearly in Manhattan, and will be running its seventh in 2017. At powwows, we host dancers, drums and community members from the tri-state area Native communities. Our group has a relationship with the American Indian Community House, has befriended the Indigenous student group at NYU, and attempts to advertise, attend, and support events (such as film screenings, art displays, and activist events) that have been created or organized by Indigenous people whenever possible. 

Next month is Native American Heritage Month

Coming up, November is Native American Heritage Month, with events throughout the month! NAHM is separate from NAC, but our communities overlap and we support them and their cultural events, celebrations, and discussions including Indigenous speakers. NAHM has a different theme every year —learn more on Native American Heritage Month’s Facebook page.

2016-2017 Native American Council Executive Board:
Presidents: Breanna Leslie-Skye CC’17, Michelle Crowfeather CC’17
Treasurer: Olivya Caballero SEAS ‘17
Political Chairs: Tristan Stidham CC ‘17, Noah Ramage CC ‘17
Elsa Hoover CC ’17
Christian Gould SEAS ‘18
Meredith Johnston CC ‘19
Kendall Harvey CC ‘19
Monica Sekaquaptewa CC ’19
Thomas Marconi CC ’19

The Native American Council at Columbia recognizes the following individuals:
Supporting faculty (bibliography, advocacy and plaque language development):
Barnard College Assistant Professor of History Andrew Lipman
Columbia Law School Associate Director Shawn Watts 
University Life Executive Vice President Suzanne Goldberg, Associate Vice President for Student Life Ixchel Rosal 
Undergraduate Student Life Dean Cristen Kromm
Office of Multicultural Affairs Associate Dean Melinda Aquino