For about a week of November last year, I remember every time I went on Facebook, my newsfeed was dominated by my friends’ check-ins to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota. There had been a statement/rumor circulating on social media that local police were using Facebook check-ins to track activists protesting the pipeline. So people began using Facebook check-ins to show their support for the Sioux tribe that was rallying against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The buzz has now died down, but many people don’t have the luxury to put the issues that continue to affect indigenous communities at the back of their minds. Such is the case for many Mohos. Since the No DAPL protest, MHC Climate Justice Coalition has organized a teach-in on Standing Rock. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter of Mount Holyoke will be soon be hosting a seminar open to both students and community members on the history of the Standing Rock Sioux, the No DAPL protest, and how to get involved both with this effort and with issues of indigenous rights in our local area. And this past Thursday, the Zowie Banteah House, Mount Holyoke’s Native American cultural center, held its first event of the semester, a campus-wide dialogue/lecture called “Hip Hop, Spirituality, and Standing Rock: A Muslim Man’s Journey,” led by Amer F. Ahmed and mediated by Dean Marcella Runell Hall. It’s important to stay informed and get involved in the social justice issues that affect our fellow citizens by vocalizing and acting on our solidarity. At Mount Holyoke, there are lot of opportunities to do this, and getting connected to the Zowie Banteah House is one of them.
The Zowie Banteah is one of Mount Holyoke’s six cultural centers. Cultural centers are designated safe spaces for various communities on campus, and each affiliated with several student organizations. These cultural centers include the Jeanette Marks House (for our LGBTQ community), and the ACE House (also known as the Asian Center for Empowerment), the Betty Shabazz House (for our African/African-American/Afro-Caribbean community), The Eliot House (Center for Religious and Spiritual Life), the Eliana Ortega (for our Latinx/Hispanic Community), and of course the Zowie Banteah House.
The Zowie Banteah was opened in 1995 under its original name Native Spirit and was later renamed in 1997 to honor an alumna (Zowie Banteah ‘96) who was instrumental in its founding. The house is primarily a space for students who identify as Native American or have Native American ancestry, however it is not exclusive and all are welcome. It has a cozy environment that fosters the sharing of stories, words of encouragement, and advice. Overall, the purpose of this cultural center is to promote visibility and empowerment for indigenous cultures by providing space for dialogue and interaction within the Mount Holyoke community. Beyond the Zowie Banteah, Mohos also have the opportunity to pursue a Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies Certificate as a supplement to their undergraduate education. According to the Five College Consortium department of Academic Programs, “Students in this certificate program draw on the resources of not one campus but five, benefiting from a wide variety of courses exploring Native American and Indigenous histories, literatures, cultures, and contemporary issues, which are taught within the consortium each year. The certificate furnishes an excellent foundation on which to build a professional career, graduate work or research. Its requirements provide a strong grounding while each student works closely with a faculty adviser to design an individualized course of study.”
There are a breadth of resources available at Mount Holyoke for you to expand your knowledge about Native American culture, and it might be overwhelming, but here and now is the perfect time to build on your social justice advocacy skills, and the Zowie Banteah is a great place to start. Later in the semester the Zowie Banteah will be hosting a series of workshops (beginning March 23) on cultural appropriation — specifically in relation to sports mascots, fashion trends, and symbols such as the dreamcatcher . A wellness workshop involving baking has been planned (April 6), as well as a film screening and discussion (date to be determined).
The Zowie Banteah is located at 4 Dunlap Place and drop-in hours are every Thursday from 7:30pm-9:30pm. To get connected with the Zowie Banteah, stop by during drop-ins, visit the Mount Holyoke Cultural Centers facebook page, or contact the student assistant (that’s me!).
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