Native American students hoist tribal flags in EMU amphitheater for Indigenous Solidarity Day

For Mitchell Lira, Monday was a day not only to celebrate Native American tribes but to pray for those who suffered in the past.

On October 9, the Native American Student Union celebrated Indigenous Solidarity Day, an annual event held on the federal holiday Columbus Day, in the EMU amphitheater. Natives and non-natives gathered to listen to the speakers and watch the Chemawa Indian school drummers perform as the nine flags were changed by students of the Chemawa boarding school.

“Indigenous peoples day is us reclaiming the day back,” Lira said. “We are making our voices heard.”

The ceremony aimed to teach natives and non-natives to understand the importance of the Native American culture that resides on campus.

“This university is built on native land,” Lira said. “The tribes still exists now, it’s not all in the past.”

As co-director of the Native American Student Union (NASU), Lira helped plan the Indigenous Solidarity Day flag changing ceremony. Lira, a three-year NASU member, does a lot of behind-the-scenes work with the organization to make these events possible. He works with students, NASU and Native American tribes to organize events with input from the community.

Many Nations Longhouse steward Gordon Bettles opened the ceremony with a prayer. Some had their hands raised, palms facing the sky, as he prayed. “This is a day that we say a prayer for those who lost their lives because of [Columbus’] journey,” Lira said.

After the prayer, Bettles explained the history of the flagpoles at the EMU. Native American business students did research for up to three years, with the goal of finding out how much funding they needed to put the tribe’s flags up in the center of campus.

The next step was gaining support. The flags surrounding the amphitheater cost an estimated $37,000. Students proposed the idea to ASUO and received a unanimous decision to grant NASU over-realized funds as well as the go-ahead to begin fundraising.

The proposal to erect the flags was also presented at the State Capitol and once again, the students were given unanimous consent. After three years of fundraising, more than $58,000 was raised for the flags.

Each flag in the amphitheater represents a different tribe in Oregon. The flags are one way for native UO students to not feel out of place at a predominantly white university.

Jason Younker, governmental liaison to the nine federally recognized tribes of Oregon, spoke after the flag changing. Younker spoke on the cases of sexual assault, killing of infants and enslavement of indigenous people that Columbus carried out as part of his case for reclaiming the holiday.

The flag changing ceremony was followed by NASU alumni speakers and a potluck later in the afternoon.

Follow Emily Harris on Twitter @_emharris


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