Native Americans Organize at UCO

Native Americans Organize at UCO

“Touch the Clouds” rests at the southwest edge of University of Central Oklahoma’s campus, on Second St. The sculpture was brought to Edmond from Houston in 2015, depicts a chief of Miniconjou of the late 19th century. (Photo from Vista Archives) 

A newly formed association at the University of Central Oklahoma said it plans to honor and serve Native American students, faculty and staff by celebrating their historical culture in Oklahoma.

Native American Faculty and Staff Association (NAFSA) has the mission to support success among Native American students, providing programs and policies to highlight the importance of understanding Native American issues.

“It’s really important for everybody to have the context and to understand that this state is very unique in our indigenous history. The history needs to be kept alive, recognized and honored because it’s so much of the life blood of the state of Oklahoma,” Jamie Clark, lecturer for the Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies and vice-president of NAFSA, said.

NAFSA is collaborating with the broader Central Community and Oklahoma’s Native American Nations to promote awareness of the history of Oklahoma, providing empowerment and cultural preservation.

Clark received her undergraduate degree from the University of Central Oklahoma in the 90’s, and she said she had an experience that changed the way she looked at diversity. She met a student from a reservation in Mexico that wasn’t satisfied with the amount of Native American culture on campus.

Clark dedicated her time to make sure students felt accepted on campus and could identify with a group of people, even though she also believes students need to branch out.

“It’s really nice for Native students who come on campus to see themselves represented in faculty and staff. [It’s important] to also to be able to connect with other students and resources that might be available to them. It’s important to have a group that is looking out for them, letting them know what’s going on,” she said.

Last month NAFSA organized a community dinner at the International house that included a lot of fellowship and remembrance of Natives histories in Oklahoma, she said.

The NAFSA also replaced Columbus Day on campus to Indigenous People’s Day. UCO adopted the changes and explored the importance of the alternate name after several requests from student groups and the UCO Faculty Senate.

During the Indigenous People’s Day Celebration on Oct. 5, UCO welcomed leaders of Oklahoma’s Native American Nations and offered a banquet honoring Native Americans’ achievements and valuable contributions to Oklahoma’s civic and cultural vitality.

“It’s our opportunity to bring together individuals on campus to recognize the Native Nations that are part of Oklahoma. Indigenous People’s Day is designed for us to express appreciation and recognition of the roll that Native Nations play, and at that same time, to encourage greater understanding of those nations and to focus of the preservation of the culture,” UCO President Don Betz said.

“They are full citizens just like anybody else, and they are really just part of our overall culture. But their distinctiveness and particular tribal approaches are very important to us to understand in terms of the quality of the life they lead and the qualities they emphasize. I think we can all learn from them,” Betz said.

Betz said that UCO currently has students from over 22 different tribes.

For more information about NAFSA or Indigenous Peoples Day, contact Botello at 405-974-5571 or rbotello@uco.edu.

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