Native American speaker series fights ignorance

By Hanna Lesky Staff Writer – hlesky@unca.edu

Local residents and UNC Asheville students are unaware of the Native American communities in the Asheville area, according to Principal Chief Michell Hicks, who visited campus on Apr. 11 to kick off a Native American speaker series.

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Principal Chief Michell Hicks listens to responses from the audience. Hicks addressed the veil between whites and natives. Photo by Harper Spires

“I meet folks all the time that don’t realize how many tribes still exist,” said Hicks, who belongs to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Hicks stood away from the podium and informally engaged the audience to answer questions about native people.

“I like to educate, and that was the biggest reason probably I was here today, is just to educate people that native people still exist and we’re strong, we’re sovereign and we want to be successful just like anybody else would want to be,” Hicks said.

There are three federally recognized Cherokee tribes in the United States and 537 federally recognized tribes all together, according to Hicks.

“I think we’re becoming stronger in a lot of various ways that we just didn’t have the resources for, the language and even cultural practices.  We’re just starting to see things evolve that just kind of went away for a while, because there was so many other critical things,” Hicks said.

Hicks pointed out how Cherokee tribes have changed, from almost losing their language because of the U.S. government’s attempt to re-educate young tribe members at boarding schools, to the casino that is now the livelihood of his people and government.

“One of the great myths about Native American people, and there are plenty, is that 1838 marks the end of indigenous culture, history and languages. 1838, of course, refers to the removal period, or what the dominant society often refers to as the Trail of Tears.  The problem with this narrative is that not only is it unequivocally false, but it completely ignores the fact that American Indian people not only remain, but in many ways are thriving,” said visiting assistant professor of education Trey Adcock.

Adcock, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and has a Ph.D. in Native American education, introduced Hicks by saying he hopes the speaker series, beginning this fall, will make UNCA more inclusive.

“We’re in North Carolina.  These are ancestral Cherokee lands, obviously, and Cherokee history is implicated in all of us.  There’s American Indian history and there’s American history, and you can’t separate them.  We are all implicated,” Adcock said.

Adcock said he hopes with Asheville’s proximity to Cherokee, the communities can develop a better relationship.

Adcock also wants to start a professorship program at UNCA similar to that of Western Carolina University’s, that he hopes would lead to more Cherokee language programs in public schools.

“Native people are both consumers and producers of modern culture, constantly evolving, striving to bridge the traditional and the contemporary within our own lived realities.  I am proud to be part of this legacy, as I am sure others in the room are too,” Adcock said.

Adcock said he approached Cultural Events and Special Academic Programs to help plan the Native American speaker series.

“We had been wanting to do our programming related to the Cherokee Nation because they are right here as our neighbors.  We don’t have any speakers lined up for it yet, but we do have some ideas for some speakers and also some corresponding programming through cultural events, as far as performances and that type of thing,” said Holly Beveridge, director of Cultural Events and Special Academic Programs.

Native American speakers came to UNCA this past fall for a mini-conference. Beveridge said the success of this event and student interest influence the department’s decision to start the series.

“Our university does have a goal of becoming more diverse and really promoting diversity and inclusion as a campus. And so in a lot of ways, this is our involvement in the Native American Speakers Series, is really to assist in that, to expose our students and also our faculty, staff and community, to different cultures,” Beveridge said.

Most people agreed there is not a lot of knowledge about the history of Native Americans in our country, even though we have the Eastern Band of the Cherokee as our neighbors, practically in our own backyard, Beveridge said.

“Probably we’re living on some of the lands that used to be theirs.  I think there’s a lot we can learn from an increased partnership,” Beveridge said.

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