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Native American Students Association discuss cultural appropriation

(Erica Lowenkron / Daily Collegian)

The first meeting of the Native American Student Association was held Tuesday night in the Josephine White Eagle Cultural Center (JWECC)  in the basement of Chadbourne Hall. Some of the members of this organization are Native Hawaiians, others are from a variety of different indigenous tribes.

The JWECC was created as a room where Native and Indigenous students could come together, collaborate and educate others on their unique cultures. According to Angelina LaRotonda, a sophomore animal science major, there is a class in the JWECC on beading, from which many of the women at the meeting were wearing beads.

When asked whether or not they feel acknowledged on campus, the answer was “no.”

There are many Native Americans in the state of Massachusetts, yet some have begged the question: why are there so few Native Americans at UMass? Members of the NASA say that the biggest hindrance is money.

The members of NASA hope UMass will find scholarships for Native Americans and make applying more accessible by waiving application fees. When it comes to scholarships, it’s incredibly difficult to find federal funding; many tribes are only “state recognized.” To be federally recognized as a tribe, the federal government acknowledges the tribe as a dependent, sovereign nation. If a tribe is only recognized by the state, that means only state money can be used towards scholarships for specific tribes. This makes it difficult for UMass to make scholarships available for the multitude of tribes in Massachusetts.

In addition to the Native Americans at the meeting, two Native Hawaiians, Brie Adams and Brooke Kamalani Yuen, feel as if their culture is not recognized and is even mocked constantly on campus.

Adams is an anthropology graduate student with a research focus on Native Hawaiian identity politics. As a Native Hawaiian who attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa as an undergrad, Adams was disturbed when she came to Massachusetts and saw the rampant appropriation of her Hawaiian culture.

Adams listed several examples of cultural appropriation she has experienced starting with, “The continuous use of [Hawaiian shirts] by the undergrads in this disgusting and touristic gaze.”

“I’ve been invited to several tiki parties,” Adams said.

Adams is upset by how easily her culture is mocked in Massachusetts, citing Hawaiian beach parties and hula girl costumes as common types of cultural appropriation.

Adams and Yuen both said that the UMass demographics do not fairly recognize “Native Hawaiian” because there are so few students.

Yuen, a junior public health major on the pre-medical track, is the secretary of the NASA.

During her senior year of high school, Yuen recalled an event that deeply affected and upset her.

“They made one of the spirit week[‘s] dress like a Hawaiian day…and I was like, but I dress like this every day. We don’t dress in grass skirts and Hawaiian shirts,” Yuen said.

She said these events have continued at UMass with fraternities hosting Hawaiian-themed parties.

“It’s the little things like when people are throwing a party and they go on Instagram and tag #finallyHawaiian…and then tag the location as Honolulu, Hawaii because that’s the only city that everyone knows,” Yuen said.

She went on to discuss one of the things that bothers her the most, the wearing and sharing of Leis. Leis are garlands that are given to others as a sign of respect and admiration, she said, and she feels that by everyone adorning and exchanging them, it’s a sign of disrespect.

Jasmine Goodspeed, a senior theater major earning a Certificate in Native American Studies, is the president of NASA, as well as a member of the Nipmuc tribe.

Godspeed is particularly disturbed by the Metawampe Statue on campus.

“I hate that [Metawampe Statue] with a burning passion, every time I see that statue I want to leave campus and never come back,” Godspeed said.

“The free-flow of the word ‘Indian,’” also bothered her.

“I think that we need to have a discussion as a campus about that word and we need to take that word out of play because it is no more than an oppressive word,” Godspeed said.

Goodspeed’s family has endured an immense amount of hardship, with her family being affected by the residential communities set up by the United States government, where Native American families were forced to be separated.

As Goodspeed put it, the government wanted to, “Kill the Native American, not the man.”

Charlotte Mills, a senior anthropology major, member of the Abenaki tribe and treasurer of NASA, shares a similar sentiment in relation to her experience at UMass.

“I was never targeted here…but I never felt like I could be Native here,” Mills said.

Mills reminisced over the Native American community on campus in the 90s.

“We’re trying to rebuild that [Native community]. We had great success last year with the powwow and we’re hoping to continue this year.”


Miranda Emily Eden Senft can be reached at

2 Responses to “Native American Students Association discuss cultural appropriation”
  1. PonyBoy says:

    I am Italian and Olive Garden offends me. Stop appropriating my culture with your sad excuse for Italian food Olive Garden, we’ve had enough!

  2. Jack O'Callihan says:

    I think this is absurd, If there were an Irish themed party or school day and everyone was dressed up as a leprechaun I would not get offended at all.

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