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Emerson Celebrates Native American Culture

Emerson students, faculty, and staff gathered with members of multiple Native American tribes from around the region in the Bill Bordy Theater on Friday, November 17, for the second Native American Cultural Arts Celebration.

The event, formerly known as the International Students Thanksgiving Dinner, is the brainchild of Jeremy Heflin, senior lecturer in Communication Studies.

Heflin, who studied Cherokee religious traditions and has Cherokee heritage himself, realized that the dinner had potential to be an educational and cultural event.

“We come together as cultures to say we not only identify as humans, but as our individual cultures. And I thought it was an important thing to move in that direction,” Heflin said about the decision to rebrand the event.

Annawon Weeden, a Wampanoag artist and activist, returned to Emerson to lead this year’s celebration, which included several performers and educators from around New England. 

“I try to focus on [the] diversity of Native people,” Weeden said.  “A common misconception is, ‘Oh, I’ve seen one movie, I’ve read one book, and I know all I need to know about Native cultures.’”

After demonstrations of several different Native American dances, Weeden walked the audience through a traditional duck dance, where male participants held their arms up in a bridge and female participants ran under the bridge trying to avoid being “caught” when the drumming stopped.

Following the demonstrations was a harvest feast where Emerson community members were given the chance to enjoy a meal with the visiting educators and performers.

“They were so welcoming, and so warm,” said audience member Kassi Mamalakis ’20.

The harvest feast was followed up by a keynote speech from Annawon’s son, Brian, about the personal development, citizenship, and leadership of today’s Native American youth.



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