SHERIDAN — Another large, captive audience packed the Sheridan College Thorne-Rider Campus Center Thursday evening to show unity and celebrate the college’s first Native American Day.
The event was coordinated by the newly formed Sheridan College Native American Club, and featured Native American food, speakers and celebration.
The club formed in part due to two recent incidents targeting Native American students. Last Wednesday, a racial slur was written on the dry-erase board on the door of freshmen Whisper SunRhodes and Braylee Armajo. The college hosted a forum in support of the students Sept. 28 that also had a significant turnout.
Monday morning, Armajo discovered a threatening message written on the board that was directed at her. The Sheridan College Police Department and Sheridan Police Department are currently investigating the two incidents on campus.
After Monday’s events, Armajo co-founded the club with five other Native American students: Shawntay Alden, Teanna Braine, Madisan Chavez, Tyra Limpy and Aubrey Meiwald. They all wore shirts at the event Thursday that said, “Native Lives Matter.”
Armajo said she wanted to organize an event this week to have a quick response and show the positive aspects of diversity and Native American culture.
The six students coordinated Native American Day, bringing in guest speakers and food donations in only a few days.
About 150 people attended, and many Native Americans traveled long distances to show support. Several different Native American tribes were represented, including Crow, Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne and Chippewa Cree.
Native American Day began with a dinner that included soup and Indian tacos. Most of the food was donated or prepared by Native Americans.
After dinner, many people addressed the audience, including five Native American guest speakers.
Leroy Not Afraid, the Crow Tribal Court chief judge and Armajo’s uncle, began with remarks on the importance of unity and diversity on campus.
Sheridan College criminal justice program director Jonni Joyce then spoke for a few minutes, saying how impressive it was that acts of bigotry could lead to such a large communal gathering. Joyce will serve as the Native American Club’s faculty advisor, and said the six students deserved a lot of credit for organizing a large event on short notice.
Each club co-founder briefly introduced themselves. Armajo thanked the attendees for their support of Native American equality.
“We are all one people,” she said.
AJ Not Afraid, the Crow Tribal chairman, said it was appropriate that the gathering was held at an educational institution, because education is the most important thing a Native American can gain. Like most of the speakers, he emphasized unity.
Arapaho councilman Normal Willow, who is SunRhodes’ uncle, also talked about the importance of education while Dell Drew Old Horn, Armajo’s uncle and the older brother of Leroy Not Afraid, discussed the persecution and disenfranchisement of Native Americans throughout history. He also emphasized the importance of continuing to fight and make progress.
“Ignorance has never prevailed,” he said. “Ignorance has always been, at its base, something that does not grow.”
The final part of the evening featured a dance celebration. Several Native American men played drums, and about 20 Native Americans, most dressed in traditional attire, danced and sang.
Armajo said the turnout was more than she expected, and that the goal of providing Native American awareness on campus was achieved, at least for one night. Going forward, Armajo said the Native American Club will continue spreading awareness by organizing other events and fundraisers, and hopefully having another Sheridan College Native American Day next year.