Feathers align Native American attire during a Powwow at Weber State University in 2012. Weber State University holds their last event for the 11th Annual Native Symposium on Nov. 10. (The Signpost Archives)

WSU’s Center for Diversity and Unity is holding its 11th Annual Native Symposium, which focuses on Native American culture and heritage in the past and present.

November is National Native American Heritage Month, and WSU’s Center for Diversity and Unity started their celebration by showing and discussing the film “Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools,” which was the first event of the 11th Annual Native Symposium. The discussion included a panel featuring John Howe, KUED executive producer, Davina Spotted Elk, a Navajo woman interviewed in the film and Patricia Benally, a Native American WSU student.

Benally encouraged Weber State students to remember the strength that Native Americans have shown throughout history. “We’re still here. We’re still a strong people. We’re a resilient people,” she said.

“Unspoken” focused on the strength of Native Americans in early boarding schools. These schools have evolved from a place that tried to strip Native Americans of their culture to a place youth can attend where they feel included and can escape stereotypes. The schools have thrived, despite their struggles, just as the Native American people have.

When these schools first began, students were sent far away from their families, forbidden to speak their native languages and stripped of their culture. “With us, there was an immediate declaration of war on our culture,” said Forrest Cuch, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe interviewed in “Unspoken.” Along with the destruction of native culture, this era involved anglicizing Native American youth in ways that left them with intense trauma later in life.

Although Native American boarding schools have evolved, Native American people still experience injustice when racial slurs or stereotypes are used as sports mascots. In the film, Spotted Elk described how difficult it was to see her son, a student at East High School in Salt Lake City, play basketball against Bountiful High School Braves, whose mascot is a drawing of a Native American. “The imagery I see at basketball games is really offensive to me,” she said.

This month is a celebration of Native American people who survived the mistreatment of early settlers.

“What makes me feel really proud of being a Native American is that we’re a resilient people,” Benally said. “We’re still here.”

“Unspoken” was the first event in honor of National Native American Heritage Month. WSU’s Center for Diversity and Unity also held a Taboo Talk on persecution in the Native community on Nov. 3 and will have the last event of the symposium on Nov. 10. This will include a Sunrise Ceremony at 7 a.m. at the Browning Center flagpoles and a series of speakers and panels from 9-12 a.m. in Shepherd Union Ballroom C. An RSVP is required to attend.

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