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Native American Student Union holds fifth annual Heritage Fair

CIO chooses First Thanksgiving themed event to honor Native American Heritage Month

<p>On Saturday, the Native American Student Union held its fifth annual Heritage Fair, which focused on historical interpretations of the First Thanksgiving.&nbsp;</p>

On Saturday, the Native American Student Union held its fifth annual Heritage Fair, which focused on historical interpretations of the First Thanksgiving. 

The Native American Student Union and their guests began Thanksgiving festivities early Saturday with its fifth annual Heritage Fair in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

NASU President Ben Walters, a second-year Engineering student, and Piedmont Virginia Community College student Emily Gillispie demonstrated traditional dances at the event, including a partner dance that had everyone in the room on their feet.

Both Walters and Gillispie spoke about the importance of their dances and regalias and their relation to specific Native cultures.

“I was taught growing up to dance for those who can’t — dancing to honor the warriors, the veterans, the elders,” Gillispie said. “I also dance for suicide awareness and prevention. I’m a trained suicide prevention worker, and I’ve personally been affected by it, so for me dancing has been a great medium to not only educate my Native community, but to start conversation.”

The event featured speaker Karenne Wood, a Ford Fellow and member of the Monacan Indian Nation, who presented about the history of the first Thanksgiving, and Native American perspectives on it.

Thanksgiving catering was provided at the event by Mel’s Café and members of the community who volunteered to lend a dish.

The event culminated in an open dialogue between NASU members, students, professors and community members that focused on the ambiguity regarding Native American identity and state and national recognitions, as well as the possibility of rectifying past and current injustices.

The fair embodied the joint ideals of education and celebration in Native American culture, said Evelyn Immonen, second-year College student and vice president of outreach.

“The legend of Thanksgiving is a huge cultural image for Americans, and so looking critically at this is a really good opportunity for students of higher education, no matter how interested or involved you are in Native American culture,” Immonen said.

One of the main goals of the heritage fair was to raise awareness of Native American culture, said Shae Weathersbee, a third-year College student and NASU vice president of administration.

“We want everybody, no matter what background they’re from, to have an awareness of what true Native culture is and its diversity,” Weathersbee said. “And then we also want to support the Native students that are here and that are around here and tie them into the University so that they feel welcome.”