By Olivia Ruud
To the members of the Native American Student Association, the effects of COVID-19 and spreading awareness about their tribes are equally important.
NASA has dedicated the month of November to spreading awareness about and celebrating Native culture. On Nov. 8, a state safety mandate required an adjustment by moving all events online.
NASA’s goals as an organization are to “bring more awareness to the native American students and also the local tribes around here because a lot of us get mistaken for a different race, for being something other than Native American,” said NASA Social Media Chair Farrah Duncan, a junior criminal justice major from Farmington, New Mexico. “I think this is a really good opportunity to show who we are, where we come from, and show a little background to everyone on campus.”
Online events may discourage attendance from some but provide opportunities for others who couldn’t attend in person.
NASA Vice President Dominique Yellowhair, a senior biology major from Dilkon, Arizona, said: “It’s harder to be able to inform people that we’re having these meetings. With the panel discussion that we had, we only had a few people from the community hop on.”
NASA wants people to know that Native Americans are still a part of the community.
“Moving the events online helps to reach students that may not be normally able to attend,” said Mike Nelson, assistant director of the Multicultural Inclusion Center. “In addition, moving the events online has helped us to offer more events in specialized areas. We have had events on military service, mascots and monuments, music, sports and others.”
NASA is dedicated to creating a “home away from home” environment, bonding through tradition, serving the community, and learning leadership. In addition to the organization’s goals, the members have set personal goals. Yellowhair said preserving their culture is the personal goal most members of NASA are passionate about.
Yellowhair said finding her culture is important because she feels closer to it the more she knows. She loves her culture that much more knowing where it came from.
“I got to a point where I sat down with my grandparents, and they’re like, ‘Once this is lost … our culture is going to go away; it’s disappearing,” said NASA Treasurer Phyllis Kitseallyboy, a senior, exercise science major, from Kirtland, New Mexico.
There are other reasons the culture is fading too. COVID-19 hit the reservations harder than most places. The elders, the ones holding the most tradition, were hit the hardest. More people per household and insufficient resources, like running water and electricity, are the major reasons reservations have more COVID cases. Yellowhair has 13 family members living together, putting each other at risk.
“When COVID hit… my intensity to learn more tripled, like a wakeup call,” Yellowhair said. “On the Navajo reservation our COVID cases were the highest per capita in the nation, and that was really scary.”
Native American Heritage Month will be celebrated through the rest of November. More information about NASA and Native American Heritage month can be found at https://mic.dixie.edu/native-american-heritage-month/.