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10-11-21-indigenous-peoples-day-protest-march-natives-at-penn-samantha-turner
Members of Natives at Penn march through campus demanding Penn formally recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day on Oct. 11. Credit: Samantha Turner

Penn's main minority coalition groups, commonly known as the 6B, have expanded to include Natives at Penn.

Announced in a joint statement on Wednesday, Natives at Penn is the second organization to join the coalition in the last three years, which meets regularly with top University administration to advocate for the interests of its constituents. Established in 1994, Natives at Penn is a student organization that represents the interests of Native and Indigenous students. 

Other members of the now-7B include the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, the Latinx Coalition, Lambda Alliance, Penn Association for Gender Equity, UMOJA, and the United Minorities Council, which previously included Natives at Penn as a constituent organization.

"The 6B recognizes and regrets that Native students and communities have been and continue to be marginalized both at Penn and within 6B spaces," the 6B and Natives at Penn wrote in a joint Instagram statement. "We see the inclusion of Native students and the amplification of the concerns of Native students as integral to our continued advocacy for minority students on campus."

Wharton junior and Natives at Penn Co-President Lauren McDonald said being a part of the coalition can help Natives at Penn receive formal recognition from the administration and be included in the 6B's advocacy around shared goals, such as more space for cultural centers

"It's really a chance to uplift students who come from very different backgrounds [than] other minority groups and also give them the support and community they would like as well," McDonald said, adding that the group is excited to join the 7B.

Natives at Penn is currently pushing for the University to add Indigenous Peoples' Day to the academic calendar and create a full-time staff position to support students at the Greenfield Intercultural Center, which currently houses Natives at Penn at 37th and Chestnut streets. 

The group is also demanding that Penn commit to increasing the number of full-time Indigenous faculty, administrators, and staff; develop strategies to recruit more Native students; and create a dedicated space on campus for Native students. In the Dec. 8 statement, the 6B wrote that it looks forward to including Natives at Penn in its on-campus advocacy for increased cultural space, funding for marginalized students, and ethnic studies.

"Being able to have more supporters, more people who are willing to voice this with us, really means a lot," McDonald said.

The coalition groups have held discussions about including Natives at Penn since at least 2019, but only seriously began considering it this past spring, according to College senior Sam Pancoe, who serves as the chair of 7B member Penn Association for Gender Equity. After multiple meetings with representatives from Natives at Penn this semester, both parties agreed the group should join the coalition.

"In some ways, there have always been Native students in 6B, or at least under the purview of 6B, but we felt like they didn't really have a strong enough presence or strong enough voice," Pancoe said. "It was really important for us to feel like Natives at Penn was able to speak for themselves and have the same access to resources that we could."

With Natives at Penn no longer being a constituent organization of UMC, Wharton junior and UMC chair Jessica Liu said UMC will continue to focus on redefining its role at Penn as an advocate for marginalized communities.

"Since the formation of other coalitions, especially 3B, I think UMC's new task is to re-establish what its place is at Penn and be a little more creative and innovative with what we want our mission to be," Liu said. The 3B includes the primary minority coalitions fighting for more cultural space on campus, and comprises the Latinx Coalition, UMOJA, and APSC, which are all housed in the ARCH building's basement. 

There isn't a formalized process for organizations to join the 7B, and both Pancoe and Liu said the coalition is open to more groups joining in the future. The coalition still needs to determine how to balance its role as an advocate for its current constituents and accepting new voices.

Moving forward, McDonald said she hopes the inclusion of Natives at Penn within 7B will make it easier for Native students to transition to the University, and it won't be as difficult for Native students to advocate for what they need.

"For the future, it would be really encouraging to show prospective Native students that if you come here, there is going to be a space on campus for you," McDonald said. "You're going to be able to have the support you need, the resources you need, and find that sense of community."

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