Honoring Native American Heritage Month with the Native American and Indigenous Alliance


In 1990, a joint resolution designated November as Native American Heritage Month (NAHM), nationally recognizing what had previously been state-designated holidays. Throughout the month, Americans are encouraged to recognize and uplift the innumerable contributions, both past and present, of Indigenous people.

George Mason University’s student organization Native American and Indigenous Alliance (NAIA) is dedicated to promoting Indigenous culture, raising awareness of Native issues, and providing a safe environment for Native and non-Native students. We spoke with members of NAIA to hear about how they’ve found community here at Mason and their perspectives on the importance of NAHM.

quote - Richard Lopez-Perez
"To me, my indigenous heritage means resilience. The Taíno were the first peoples encountered by Europeans and thus the first people that were assumed to be devastated and completely annihilated. Yet at the end of the day, we still exist in various different forms. We still exist."

Richard Lopez-Perez
Puerto Rican of Taíno descent
BA in Foreign Languages, concentration in Korean

quote - Justin Gray
"For me, my indigenous heritage is all-encompassing. Ever since I was a kid, up until now, it's something that I've, you know, constantly been raised in and educated under. It provides a sense of community, a sense of family. Coming to Mason really helped me expand upon my sense of pride and who I am. And it gave me a greater sense of family and belonging."

Justin Gray
Piscataway and Rappahannock tribes
BS in Information Technology

quote - Macarena De La Cruz Velasquez
"Through the Native American and Indigenous Alliance at Mason, I discovered that being indigenous can have many meanings. I was taken aback to see that I wasn't alone, and that there are other people in my similar situation who are also trying to reconnect back to their roots. As an immigrant at a young age, the alliance has helped me find community on campus, as well as further connected me to my ancestors in Peru."  

Macarena De La Cruz Velasquez
BA in Criminology, Law and Society

quote - Ozcollo Espinoza
"Native American Heritage Month is a time to give a voice to people that are normally voiceless. We need to listen to the indigenous community at all times, of course, but this is a time where the general public can publicly platform Indigenous people, Indigenous students, activists, artists, all of it. I think that’s why it’s a very important time of the year."

Ozcollo Espinoza
Quechua Nation; Chichimeca, and Karankawa Kadla tribes
BA in Anthropology

quote - Sara Jefferson
The importance of Native American Heritage Month is that it’s a time for us to really uplift the native community. And that isn't specific to North American natives: there's the indigenous populations in South America, Europe, Africa, and all around. This month is about uplifting all those voices. We’re here to teach people that we're not some fairy tale in a textbook: We're still here. We're present. We're a lot closer to you than what you might think. We're still here, and we're so strong.

Sara Jefferson 
Chickahominy Indian Tribe of Virginia
BA in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, concentration on interpersonal dynamics 

You can view the full video on our Instagram: @georgemasonu

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Mason alum Kelli Jo Ford gives voice to generations of Native American women

Named to Oprah Magazine’s list of Native American Authors to Read Right Now in 2020, Mason alum Kelli Jo Ford, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is the author of Crooked Hallelujah, a “novel-in-stories that follows four generations of Cherokee women as they travel farther from their native Oklahoma.” Learn more about her.

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