Native American dancers Lydia Green and Wolfgrass Irwin perform traditional, indigenous-style dance at the Multicultural Center’s “Alternative Thanksgiving” event at the Ohio Union Performance Hall Nov. 5. The event kicked off Native American Heritage Month. Credit: Joseph Schmittgen | Lantern Reporter

In 2019, the university’s enrollment report counted only 53 American Indian or Alaska Native students and 36 Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders across all campuses and levels. This month, the Multicultural Center has big plans for this small group on campus.

Each month, the Multicultural Center celebrates a different heritage or awareness event. November celebrates Native American heritage with events commemorating the culture of the nation’s 573 nations and tribes, according to the center’s website.

Melissa Beard-Jacob, an intercultural specialist in American Indian and indigenous student initiatives, is of Anishinaabe heritage and helped plan many of the events for the month.

Beard-Jacob is hosting “150th Sesquicentennial Celebration: The History of Native OSU” Wednesday in the Ohio Union, where she will teach students about the history of Native American student activism and culture, as well as the historical and contemporary Native American presence on campus.

“I wanted to do something on the history of native folks here at Ohio State,” Beard-Jacob said. “I’m really going to look back into thinking about who was here before the university was built [and] who were these lands traditionally home to.”

Beard-Jacob said she appreciates that there is a recognized month to bring visibility to such a small group.

“I love the agency that it gives them and feeling a power that they have as native students to showcase some of the things they’re doing,” Beard-Jacob said.

Beard-Jacob advises two student organizations on campus: the Native American and Indigenous Peoples Cohort and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which aims to promote greater inclusion of Native Americans, Hawaiians and Alaskans in STEM. These organizations have helped Beard-Jacob plan events for Native American Heritage Month.

Nicole Doran, a fourth-year in biology and president of both organizations, said being part of these organizations has connected her to the Native American community.

“I didn’t think I knew any native people growing up,” Doran said. “Since coming to college, it’s been a journey of reclamation and learning more about my culture myself.”

Doran said some of the events the organizations host are the first and only time nonnative students have experienced native culture. She said the events are important for educating nonnative students as well as building community for native students.

“The stereotype that always gets thrown at us is that Native Americans are in the past, and we’re not capable of being modern and being in colonial institutions like academia,” Doran said. “[It’s] just asserting that we’re here and that we’re still a thriving community.”

Beard-Jacob said she has also been subject to stereotypes and questioned about her authenticity as a Native American because she has blue eyes. She said she hopes the events teach nonnative students that Native Americans are still around and impacting their communities.

“In their mind, they have the stereotype of what a native person is. For me, a big thing is education and giving them the opportunity to come out and engage with the culture,” Beard-Jacob said.

Upcoming Native American Heritage Month events include a star quilt workshop Tuesday in the Multicultural Center, a first-year success series workshop on navigating Native American indigenous student support services Thursday in the Ohio Union and a presentation on indigenous rock ’n’ roll Nov. 22 in the Multicultural Center. The month’s programming will end Nov. 25 with a screening of the movie “Fire Song” in the Multicultural Center in collaboration with LGBTQ Student Initiatives.

“150th Sesquicentennial Celebration: The History of Native OSU” will take place at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Rosa M. Ailabouni Room in the Ohio Union. More details on Native American Heritage Month can be found on the Multicultural Center’s website.