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Natives at Penn marched through campus, demanding Penn formally recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day on Oct. 11, 2021. Credit: Samantha Turner

Following the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Natives at Penn is prioritizing efforts to reinforce the identities of Native students on campus and foster stronger ties with the local Native community. 

This year, NAP aims to spread awareness of Native traditions and build community among Penn’s diverse Native students. Club members highlighted how recent administrative support for Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps advance their goals.

On Oct. 9, NAP hosted a march on Locust Walk to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Penn officially acknowledged the holiday in 2021, following a march calling on the University to better support its Native students. 

Mollie Benn, a College junior who is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, said that this year’s celebration aimed to honor NAP members’ separate identities and nations to raise campus visibility of Indigenous Peoples' Day. 

“NAP just wanted to take a moment to recognize Native voices,” Benn, who is also a multimedia staffer at The Daily Pennsylvanian, said.  

Following the march, some students attended the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Philly celebration in Penn Treaty Park. The Quechua Language Program sponsored a table for NAP to connect with the local Indigenous community. Tabling students informed celebration attendees about Penn’s Quechua Language Program and NAP’s upcoming powwow in the spring. 

College sophomore Nikolai Curtis, NAP’s social chair and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, spent all day tabling at the event.

“It was really great for me to connect with a number of Indigenous People within the area,” Curtis said. “People were excited to hear about what [NAP] had going on.” 

Curtis said that he has noticed a “big shift” in recent administrative support for Native students. He highlighted Vice Provost for University Life Karu Kozuma's role in working to alleviate concerns from past years surrounding the University's treatment of Native students.

“Kozuma is very, very dedicated to making sure that [Native students] feel supported and has repeatedly made an effort to present at some of our events,” Curtis said. 

Kozuma and Vice Provost for Education Karen Detlefsen sent an email to the Penn community on Oct. 9, acknowledging Penn's location on the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the Lenni-Lenape people and encouraging students to learn more about Indigenous Peoples' Day through various campus initiatives. 

Curtis added that he is excited about NAP’s new space in ARCH. As part of the past year’s renovations to ARCH, Penn allocated NAP a new space on the building’s second floor, which the club can use to host community-building events.

Mary Anne Baricuatro, Greenfield Intercultural Center associate director, said this is the first year that her role formally includes supporting Native and Indigenous initiatives at Penn. Baricuatro, who stepped into the position this year, previously served as a graduate student at the GIC for NAP. 

Baricuatro plans to work with Indigenous students to identify how the center can best support their needs. One of her goals this year is to expand Penn’s internal community to connect with Native groups in Philadelphia. She also aims to make prospective Native Students feel welcome at Penn. 

“Youth should be able to see themselves represented and be able to imagine that they could be part of this institution,” Baricuatro said. “I think that it’s so empowering and inspiring.”

While past NAP efforts have focused on achieving University recognition of Indigenous Peoples' Day, Benn said that the club hopes to focus on community-building this year. 

“We want to create an uplifting space where Native students feel like they can get involved or go to events,” Benn said. 

NAP is planning several internal and public events for Native American Heritage Month in November. The club's biggest event of the year, an annual powwow, will take place in the spring.

“We will have dancers, vendors, and lots of people from the local community and from further out attending,” Curtis said. “The official details of the event will be released soon.”

Baricuatro emphasized the importance of supporting a diverse community of Native students on campus. 

“It is important to recognize our own [Indigenous] identities as a grounding for who we are on campus,” Baricuatro said. “We all have such diverse experiences and relationships to our tribes and our culture, and one of the beauties of Natives at Penn that I want to lean into helping to explore our identities and celebrate our own wisdom.”