Only last week during election coverage, CNN referred to the American Indian voting demographic as merely “something else” during a month dedicated to celebrating our heritage and an election in which the Native vote proved influential. For Indigenous people, our legacies include generational pain, cultural erasure, genocide, poverty, high crime rates, stolen land and court battles. Still today, the impact of these issues is prevalent in Indian Country. We have fought hard for our rights and recognition in America even when every effort was made to erode our existence. We are indeed “something else” — a result of resilience necessarily built into each generation. A result of fighting against the horrific mistreatment of our cultures, tribes, artifacts and ancestors. We have worked for far too long for recognition to accept CNN’s insult to our identity. CNN’s misstep highlights an all too common phenomenon in America, one that fails to acknowledge Native heritage and legacy.
Within our own community at the College of William and Mary, Native peoples have a long and rich history. Members of both of my tribes, Cherokee Nation and Delaware Tribe, attended the Brafferton Indian School on Old Campus. The Brafferton, situated behind the Sir Christopher Wren Building, now houses offices, including that of College President Katherine Rowe. Our campus is entirely built on land belonging to several Virginia-area tribes including the Nottoway, Chickahominy, Eastern Chickahominy, Mattaponi, Monacan, Nansemond, Pamunky, Patawomeck, Upper Mattaponi and Rappahannock tribes. Lake Matoaka is named after Pocahontas, who grew up here. Our mascot was an Indian for decades and we are one of the few schools with programs dedicated to studying American Indian anthropology and history at the American Indian Resources Center on campus. The College has also worked to foster relations with local tribes, and each spring, the College’s American Indian Student Association hosts a campus powwow alongside these tribes.
“This month’s Brafferton Week is our most recent successful initiative and we are grateful to the Student Assembly for supporting our goal of bringing accessible learning opportunities for everyone on campus.”
Today, the College’s American Indian Student Association continues to work towards acknowledgement of the Native presence on campus. Just this past summer, we were overwhelmed by the support with which our petition received by the College community. Since we began our initiatives, the College has published an official land acknowledgement of Native peoples. The Muscarelle museum has collaborated with the AISA to create a Native art exhibition on the second floor of the Sadler Center. The Cohen Career Center has also reached out to AISA and connected our group with Native alumni and businesses. This year, we will celebrate the College’s very first Brafferton Week.
This month’s Brafferton Week is our most recent successful initiative and we are grateful to the Student Assembly for supporting our goal of bringing accessible learning opportunities for everyone on campus. I would like to extend an invitation to all of the College community to join me and other members of the American Indian Student Association in celebrating Native history at our school and Native American heritage throughout our country. We have created a schedule of events in collaboration with the Nansemond tribe and the Colonial Williamsburg House to provide an opportunity for learning and appreciation for anyone interested. We will be hosting lectures, listening to tribal stories and watching a film on Indigenous culture during the week.
Email Carolina Wasinger at firstname.lastname@example.org and learn more about Brafferton Week through AISA’s Instagram, @wmnatives.