Students across campus were filmed answering questions about if they had heard of the American Holocaust and what they knew about Native American history. This video played before a panel discussion at the Center for Diversity and Unity on Wednesday afternoon. The panel, titled “American Holocaust?”, was designed to raise awareness of Native American history and dispel myths and stereotypes some people may believe.
“We’re not all alcoholics, we don’t have all have money from family who own casinos, we don’t all get scholarships just because we’re American Indians,” said Christa Boyd, one of the panelists and a Weber State University student.
History professor Kathryn MacKay and Pepper Glass, a sociology professor, joined Boyd on the panel. The panelists discussed common stereotypes and how Native American history is glossed over in schools.
Boyd said she hated going to school on the day they would learn history involving the Native Americans.
“What was being discussed in class, I didn’t feel was done with a sense of gratitude and pride,” she said. She added that even learning the ABCs brought in hurtful stereotypes. “I hated the card that said ‘I’ is for ‘Indian’ with the exaggerated image of an Indian. It should be ‘C’ is for ‘cartoon Indian.’”
MacKay said it doesn’t surprise her when people are ignorant of Native American history, since she doesn’t think the U.S. does well as a society when it comes to knowing its history.
“We need to demand a richer history from our educational institutions,” MacKay said.
The panel brought up the contributions of the Navajo tribe during World War II. Using codes based on their native language, they were able to transit important messages during the war.
“It’s an important part of our (American) culture and people don’t know about it,” said Richard Campos, a WSU student who serves on the Diversity Board and organized the panel.
November is Native American Heritage Month, and the panel discussion was one of several campus events to celebrate it. However, MacKay cautioned against these stories coming only in November.
“It’s a bit flustering, in order to have speakers/programs, that we have to these dedicated months to Native American history, women’s history or African-American history. We should be celebrating everyone all the time.”
One of the common stereotypes brought up was the idea that all Native Americans in college are on scholarships. Panelists dismissed this as a myth, while also pointing out how easy it is for people in the majority class to access education.
The panel also discussed how growing urbanization has brought more Native Americans away from the reservations and into the cities.
Along with the loss of some of the native languages, MacKay explained how many native languages have been disappearing over the years. She used the example of the Navajo having several words for light, whereas English has only one.