Representatives from 13 regional tribes gave presentations on food, art, language and more at an Indigenous culture symposium that drew Indigenous people from more than 60 tribal nations to the INAC campus. Tulane University this weekend.
After taking place virtually last year and being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, attendees were eager to sit in solidarity and converse in person at the fourth annual South Tulane Gulf Indigenous Studies Symposium. .
“It’s time to learn together, to have collective contemplation and a beloved community,” said Rebecca Snedeker, executive director of Tulane’s New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, which organized the event. “The more we understand where we are, the more we can commit to our collective destiny.”
Jason Lewis, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma who works with the Choctaw Nation of Mississippi, introduced the game of stickball, a competitive ball game that gained popularity in the 1800s among Native Americans.
Coronavirus restrictions scuttled a scheduled live ball game at Tulane, but Lewis said he hoped they would be able to make it at next year’s event. He said such presentations are important in telling stories of Indigenous cultures that otherwise would not be told.
Language is another aspect of Indigenous cultures that is crucial to keep alive, Lewis noted.
Eli Langley, host of Bayou Indian Radio and a member of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, spoke about his journey to becoming fluent in his tribal language, Koasati.
Langley, an Elton native and recent Harvard graduate, said his tribe didn’t initially believe Koasati could be learned as a second language.
“I wanted to show people that it could be done,” Langley said.
Presenter Chase Kahwinhut Earles, a potter and member of the Caddo Nation whose art has been featured in museums in Dallas, Minneapolis and Milwaukee, said his art is important in defending and maintaining his tribe’s cultural identity.
Earles said it’s overwhelming at times being an Indigenous advocate, but overall it’s a fulfilling job where he says he gets a lot of satisfaction.
“I feel like I have to do so many people’s work that I don’t have enough time,” Earles said, adding, “You try to get through it with people who are willing to understand and deal with it. with those who are unwilling to.”
Snedeker said she also hopes the symposium can offer an understanding of the importance of Indigenous communities to those who do not come from Native American spaces.
New Orleans resident Darlene Wolnik participated in hopes of expanding her knowledge of native cultures in a city where such information is often hard to come by. She said allies should listen more and explore the lands around the city where indigenous communities are located.
“It’s really important that we get out of our own little cycle that we have in our very fun town,” she said. “There are also a lot more fun things to see outside.”
Lewis and Langley said the symposium helps diverse nations build on their commonalities.
“Collective action is the way to bring about change,” Langley said. “An Indian can easily be ignored, but 100, 1,000, 10,000? Not so easily… I believe (the tribes) can work together even if we keep our identities separate.