Amberlina Alston remembers a puzzling statement a classmate made last semester.
“This guy said he thought all Natives got their college paid for,” Alston says. “And I’m like, ‘No, that’s definitely not true.’”
It’s one of many stereotypes that Alston hopes to eradicate during National Native American Heritage Month. At NC State, events throughout November will focus on Native culture and history. Alston, chairwoman of Native American Heritage Month and president of the Native American Student Association, hopes for a large turnout.
Stereotypes are the top problem facing Native Americans today, says Alston, a junior from Durham majoring in psychology and a member of the Lumbee tribe. She has heard people claim Native Americans receive federal money, eat bugs and are lazy. Sacred symbols of Native American culture, such as headdresses and war bonnets, show up as costume accessories at Halloween. All this needs to stop, Alston says.
“The stereotypes of Native Americans that have persisted for so long are deep-rooted in history,” she says. “Once you remove those stereotypes, it’ll be easier for people to actually understand what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to poaching our culture.”
Native American Heritage Month events are designed to educate attendees. Pulse of the Pack on Thursday evening will explore the history and importance of the drum in Native American culture. Teams can test their Native American knowledge Monday at a trivia bowl. Culture Night on Tuesday will include Native American traditions and storytelling.
This month’s theme is resilience, which highlights Native Americans’ ongoing efforts to both correct misinformation and integrate tradition with modern life, Alston says. Tribes pushing for progress still maintain centuries-old practices such as powwows, dances and art.
Events this month show the “very relevant, modern culture that we still celebrate,” Alston says.
There are opportunities to keep learning about Native American culture after November. NC State holds an annual powwow in the spring. Multicultural Student Affairs and the Native American Student Association are resources, Alston says, and she is willing to field questions and share her knowledge and experiences. She says the best way for people to help Native Americans today is to learn about their history and understand the challenges they face.
“Educating yourself is the biggest thing you can do,” she says.