Native American Heritage Month on Campus

Elena Sorrentino   Editor-in-Chief

November is Native American Heritage Month which, according to the National Congress of American Indians, “is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people.” Eastern prides itself on its dedication to promoting diversity and a campus environment that values cultural traditions. In line with this mission, they sponsored many events that helped celebrate this month of reflection.

During the University Hour on Oct. 31, Eastern hosted “A Native Perspective: Sustaining Our Land, Recovering the Sacred.” This was presented by Winona LaDuke, an internationally acclaimed author. LaDuke is also the executive director of Honor the Earth, a non-profit that supports indigenous environmental justice causes, such as the protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline. On Wednesday Nov. 7, the University Hour was “A Talk with First Nation, First Modern Female Chief.” In this session, Marilynn “Lynn” Malerba, Chief of the Mohegan Tribe, visited campus. Malerba is the first female chief in Mohegan’s recent history and during this event, she shared her heritage and future vision for the Mohegan tribe.

Tuesday, Nov. 13, Eastern celebrated by hosting members of the Eastern Pequot and Mashantucket Pequot tribes in the Student Center from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. The events included a jewelry demonstration, an interactive oral story, spoken word, and Native music. Most of these activities occurred on the stage in the Student Center Lobby, while students sat at the surrounding tables learning about the culture.

In the wake of all of these awesome events, it is worth mentioning something that many students might not know: that the namesake of the Paul E. Johnson room on the second floor of the library was a member of the local Mashantucket Pequot Tribe. Paul Johnson served as a maintenance member at Willimantic State Teachers College, known now as Eastern Connecticut State University. His grandson, Pedro Johnson, became the Director of Public Affairs for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and worked to form a relationship with Eastern throughout his tenure. In an article, “It’s a Johnson Family Affair,” Dwight Bachman writes, “Pedro’s grandfather was so highly thought of on campus that he was one of the three people to whom the 1953 yearbook was dedicated. ‘Imagine dedicating anything to a janitor!’ says Pedro.”

In 1999, Eastern honored its relationship to the Johnson family and the Pequot tribe by naming this conference room in Paul Johnson’s memory. It is small actions like the dedication of this room that display Eastern’s commitment to inclusion and the celebration of diverse cultural experiences.

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