DENTON (UNT), Texas — The University of North Texas celebrated Native American Heritage Month with a variety of experiences meant to educate and inspire. The events, guided by UNT’s Native American Student Association (NASA), paid tribute to a rich history while increasing the community’s understanding of modern-day Native life and culture.
November was officially designated Native American Heritage Month by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. The commemorative month was established to bring focus to the cultures, traditions and significant accomplishments of Native American people.
On campus, students and faculty enjoyed a taste of Native American cuisine. UNT Dining Services presented one-of-a-kind lunch menus featuring Native foods across the university’s five dining halls.
“The menus were an intertribal collaboration,” said Deante’ Moore, president of NASA. “Native Americans don’t just have one type of food — we wanted to showcase different tribal nations and bring it all together.”
UNT Dining Services surveyed NASA students on the foods that are used in their various Native communities. Chefs then worked to incorporate as many of those as possible for the special menus. Moore and other NASA members also provided direction on decorations for each dining hall to represent the 574 federally recognized tribal nations across the U.S.
The meals served as a way for the UNT community to learn more about Native cuisine, while allowing Native students and faculty to celebrate their identity and culture.
“Food is so tied into our cultures, and there were many years of government policies that tried to erase Indigenous food, knowledge and wellness,” said Moore, who is a citizen of the Gila River Indian Community. “Having Native food on campus honors us students, as well as Native people in general.”
At the UNT CoLab, the College of Merchandising Hospitality and Tourism and the Department of History hosted an exhibition to showcase the work of more than 20 contemporary Native artists. “Collective Wisdom” is a traveling art exhibition that was previously housed at galleries in Oklahoma and New Mexico. Each piece featured is a unique collaboration between two or more artists.
UNT students and members of NASA planned their own contributions for the opening reception. Joseph Sioui, a citizen of the Wendat Nation pursuing a master’s degree in library science, assembled an avant-garde jazz quartet of UNT students to play arrangements of Wendat social songs.
“By bringing a Native presence to different art mediums and professions, then we’re able to show who we are ourselves, rather than being represented by other people,” Sioui said. “Meaningful representation is important for Native professionals and students because it helps us realize what’s possible.”
April Enelly Galvan, a senior earning their BFA in studio art, created a live, improvised painting in response to the quartet.
“Even though my painting was improvised, it was inspired by the artwork in the collection as well,” Galvan said. “I was really moved by the nature that was present in many of the pieces.”
Robert O. Smith, assistant professor of history and faculty co-advisor for NASA, said too often there is an assumption that Native peoples and cultures are “relics” of the past.
“This collection brings Native life and vision into the future,” said Smith, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. “It highlights contemporary Native artists producing contemporary art forms.