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The Connection

The award-winning news site of Cosumnes River College

The Connection

The award-winning news site of Cosumnes River College

The Connection

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month kicks off

Helen Harlan
Native Heritage Week committee member Dr. Crystal Martinez-Alire presents speaker Nia Gregory with a gift on Monday. Gregory spoke on education as one of six keynote speakers planned for CRC’s American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month celebrations began on Monday with campus hosting three back-to-back speakers in the WINN Centers.

The event was one of many planned for Native Heritage Week by Native American Higher Education Resources, or NAHER, the Cosumnes River College organization aimed at creating a community for Indigenous-identifying students.

“With this entire series, what we want to make sure that people know is that there are so many issues within the Indigenous community,” said November Rain Erwin, 29, an anthropology major and NAHER clerk. “So every day that we are having a heritage week event people will be speaking on one of those issues.”

Erwin identifies as part of the Karuk Tribe from Happy Camp in Siskiyou County and said that over 700 CRC students subscribe to her NAHER Canvas page and identify as Indigenous.

The event began with an opening blessing by Elder Albert Titman over Zoom. Titman, who identifies as Nisenan/Miwok/Maidu/Pit River, is the Deputy Director for the Native Dads Network and a Registered Addiction Specialist.

Titman was followed by Al Striplen, who is of Amah Mutsun Ohlone (California Native) and Aztec heritage. Striplen, a Native American Counselor and Spiritual Guide, spoke in person of his mental health journey. He paused throughout to play the flute.

“This one is from a movie,” Striplen said as he played the theme from the 1992 film “The Last of the Mohicans”.
After a break for lunch, Nia Gregory, a San Joaquin Delta College Native American Studies Professor, closed with a talk on education. Gregory is of Cherokee, Yuchi and Mexican descent and calls herself an “Urban Native” because she grew up in the East Bay.

“I am two sides of a coin,” Gregory said. “I am a Native daughter from a rez kid. I am the daughter of an immigrant.”

Gregory touched on many subjects including her family history of relocations, her grandmother’s harrowing story as an Indian boarding school survivor and her own imposter syndrome.

“I am young. My youth is seen as kind of against me,” Gregory said. “Often times I get judged for not being a spiritual elder.”

Gregory closed with a question to the staff and faculty: “What are you doing to make Native students feel safe?”
After the talks, Gladis Sanchez, Dean of Library, Learning Resources and Student Services at CRC, spoke to The Connection about exciting new changes coming to NAHER.

“The state of California has now allocated some funds for community colleges who are meant to use that money to be able to better support Native students,” Sanchez said. “At CRC we are really fortunate that we already have a place so this additional funds will make sure that we get adequate support for students.”

Sanchez said that NAHER is looking to hire a director and they are hoping to have someone on board relatively soon.

Erwin said she hoped the importance of culture to one’s mental health would be one thing students take away from the speakers.

“Every ethnic group out there, there are certain things that we do to help heal ourselves. With the Indigenous community there are so many different nations out there and all have different systems, traditions that they do,” Erwin said. “It’s really important to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. It’s really hard to get through a day, if not an entire week, if your mental health isn’t where it should be.”


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About the Contributor
Helen Harlan
Helen Harlan, News Editor
Helen Harlan is a News Editor for the Connection newspaper. She joined the Connection to see and hear how people feel about the world around them, and her goal is to build her portfolio as a journalist. She has an affinity for animals, conservationism and the classic sitcom Seinfeld.

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