Seeing and empowering future Native scholars

Anpa’o Locke ’21 submitted one of the winning essays of the College’s 2019 Hortense Parker Celebration. The celebration honors the legacy of Hortense Parker — class of 1883 and the College’s first known student of color — and all students of color, past and present. Locke’s essay is presented here with her permission.

Q: When you leave the gates of Mount Holyoke College, what do you hope to leave behind? What will your legacy be?

It’s summer and the sun is starting to set. The prairie is alive. I can hear the wind, softly blowing. The crickets talk to each other, telling each relative nearby to get ready. The rez dogs bark in the distance, in excitement. The ceremony is about to start.

Our tires crunch against the gravel as my mom and I drive down to the ceremonial grounds. I see two tipis in the distance, right next to a long arbor made of wood. I see my cousins playing in the dirt and exploring our land. I can hear the hearty chuckles of my aunties in the kitchen. It’s my community. In my traditions, the Lakota people have a ceremony that is named Isnati. The coming of age women’s ceremony. You are eligible to go through the ceremony when you have your first menstruation cycle (also called moon time by many Indigenous communities).

Throughout the several-day-long ceremony, Isnati is a time to learn lessons of life through women in your community.

The process begins with complete isolation from outside community members apart from the participating women in the ceremony and the Aunties, Mothers, Sisters and Cousins who help. It’s a moment of empowerment, resilience, a wíŋyaŋ, a Lakota woman. This ceremony allows you to learn and genuinely connect to your Indigeneity. You feel one with the land, your community and the creator.

You feel the strength of your ancestors, coming up through your feet, from the ground.

You feel the power, the resiliency. During Isnati, I was taught cultural ways of life I had not known before. And I was given the knowledge of our history, and the position we hold as Indigenous people. I want to share this knowledge with my Native scholar community.

The legacy I want to leave behind is one of a strong community.

I remember walking through the gates and immediately feeling like I don’t belong. I felt like I was an imposter, because it felt like there were no Indigenous people here. I felt invisible, unacknowledged, unseen. Moving from my community, that was large, surrounded by endless Aunties (Thiwin), Uncles (Leksi), Grandmas (Unci) and Grandpas (Lala), to feeling isolated. I want my Indigenous peers to feel the power that runs through our blood. Our ancestors fought for us to be here, and it is our given right to be in these spaces. We shouldn’t feel imposter syndrome on land that was stolen from us. I belong here. You belong here.

This is why we are creating ISCA, Indigenous Students Cultural Association. We want to cultivate a space and welcoming for our incoming relatives.

Our Indigenous students are important and vital to every campus and classroom. The first thing we would need from the college is land acknowledgement. If you want to make Native students feel less invisible, acknowledge that this is occupied Nipmuck and Pocumtuc land.

The legacy I want to leave when I graduate is a thriving community for Indigenous students to feel safe and supported.

I want to share the knowledge I learned from Isnati, the value of community. How we can be in good relations, how to be a good relative to each other at this PWI. I want my future and current Native scholars to feel empowered and heard. That’s the legacy I want to leave with ISCA. Indigenous students will be seen, we will be heard, we will be acknowledged.

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