Native American groups foster community, knowledge

Samantha Wright

On the second floor of Mass Media and Technology Hall, students gathered around a long table, munching on pizza and sipping on soft drinks. These students are part of the Native Student Group Talking Circle, an attempt to inspire open discussion of American Indian culture and issues in a safe place. All students were welcome.

Hawk and Regina Laughing, along with their two sons, one of whom is an incoming freshman, attended the meeting. Hawk, a Mohawk American Indian, and Regina, a Cherokee American Indian, shared stories about experiences they’ve had, as well as how life was growing up.

However, Hawk Laughing said what they were taught while growing up didn’t always agree with other people’s views.

“I think, in order to succeed, you have to mainstream in a lot of ways.” he said.

The Laughings showed students the cards they had to carry to prove they were American Indians, and Hawk explained that there is a blood quantum a person has to meet to be considered an American Indian by the government.

Dakota Sherek, a senior from Louisville, KY, said she was approached by Victoria LaPoe, her advisor and a professor of journalism and broadcasting, about forming a group for American Indian students and others. They both are of American Indian descent and often had conversations pertaining to their heritage.

“I just thought it was a really good idea, that it was a way to get together and for me to learn more about my own culture and help other people express theirs,” Sherek said.

LaPoe said she was inspired to start the group after speaking with Carl Fox, associate Provost and graduate school dean, who said he was interested in American Indian research. While talking, LaPoe mentioned that while she and her husband were at Louisiana State University, they were involved with a Native American student association.

Fox suggested she see if there was any interest in forming something like that at WKU. LaPoe thought it was a good idea.

“I think it’s important, at an academic university, to celebrate all people and have an understanding of all people,” she said.

Lacretia Dye, an assistant professor of counseling and student affairs, brought her class of graduate students to the meeting. Both Fox and LaPoe sent out emails to fellow faculty members and graduate students, which is how she found out. 

Dye said a group like this is important because it brings light to issues people might not know about.

“You hear about things like Kony, and think it doesn’t happen here, but it does,” she said.

Students went around the table and shared ideas about what they’d like to see in future meetings, and most students expressed their gratitude and appreciation for a group like this. Many said they wanted to learn more, and this was a great opportunity to do so. 

Sherek said she’s received emails from people who weren’t able to attend that night’s meeting but were eagerly anticipating the next. 

“I’ve actually received quite a few emails from people saying, ‘I couldn’t make it this time, but if you have another one, let me know!’” she said.

The next meeting of the Native Student Group Talking Circle will be March 30, and the time and location are to be announced.