Indigenous Heritage Month keynote

Kijua Sanders-McMurtry writes to campus about the ongoing process of acknowledgement, redress, reconciliation and repair towards the Indigenous community.

November 30, 2021

Dear members of the campus community, 

Tonight, we will welcome activist and educator Larry Spotted Crow Mann (Nipmuc) for a special event at 6:30 pm in Gamble Auditorium, located in the Art Building. The event commemorates our recognition of Indigenous Heritage Month, and will begin with a brief memorial and reflection  followed by a livestream of “We Are Still Here. We Are The Story. We Are The Land: Honoring the Past, Present and Future of the Indigenous People of Western Massachusetts.” We encourage all on-campus community members to join us in person and those that are off-campus to join us via Zoom by registering for the webinar. We will also celebrate the birthday of the Zowie Banteah Cultural Center at a reception immediately following the talk. 

This event culminates several important dialogues, discussions and cultural events led by the Zowie Banteah Cultural Center and the work of Cultural Center Assistant Juliette Gagnon Strong Heart ‘24 and Associate Dean for Community and Inclusion Latrina Denson. Our anti-racism action plan, launched in the summer of 2020, shared a number of commitments focused on helping our community live up to its promise of being a place where we would work towards intentionally disrupting racism through our policies and practices. We have a long way to go, but we remain steadfast in our work towards moving beyond words into action.

This work includes engaging in an ongoing process of acknowledgement, redress, reconciliation and repair towards communities that were historically disenfranchised, excluded and marginalized. In October of 2021, coinciding with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the College held a teach-in and established a Land Acknowledgement Policy, based upon the activism of the Indigenous Students Cultural Association and the work of numerous faculty and students at Mount Holyoke over the years. On October 15, the College was able to complete the physical repatriation of the human remains of an Indigenous ancestor. In partnership with the Stockbridge Munsee tribe, the ancestral remains were transferred to the state-recognized Hassanamisco Nipmuc Nation. This careful and intentional work was led in the final stages by our Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Coordinator and Associate Curator of Visual and Cultural Material of the Art Museum Aaron Miller. There are numerous community members who worked over the years to ensure that this took place. To learn more about the continued efforts of repatriation at Mount Holyoke, please visit our NAGPRA Policy

Our memorial and reflection tonight will begin the long process of healing and reconciliation, but there will be much more work over the next year as we partner with the community to honor this important legacy and engage in true steps for redress and accountability. The History, Legacy and Memory Task Force will be engaging in more interrogative and reflective work and offering key recommendations. We would be remiss not to acknowledge the labor of love and intentionality that has been shepherded by numerous student groups from cultural organizations and the activism of past Indigenous students including Ruth Muskrat Bronson, class of 1925, Evelyn Yellow Robe ’42, Zowie Banteah ’96 and countless others whose names we will continue to lift up in our work towards justice and inclusion. 

I welcome your insights, reflections and comments as we continue our collective work towards creating a better Mount Holyoke. 

In community,