Native American Students Organization Revitalized
Issue   |   Wed, 03/11/2015 - 01:42

Two first-year students have set out to revitalize Native American Students Organization. Co-chairs Lehua Matsumoto ‘18 and William Harvey ‘18, are collaborating this semester to reach out to a wider audience on campus and establish a more active community for the club.

Founded in 2013, the Native American Students Organization is the first and the only club associated with Native American students on campus.

Native American Students Organization provides a space to discuss cultures and issues pertaining to American indigenous peoples. According to the group’s mission statement found on the Amherst College website, the scope of the group includes, but is not limited to, “American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians (or other Pacific Islanders, Indigenous Mexicans, Pueblos Orginarios de Abya Yala and First Nations people.”

“The purpose of the club, in my eyes, is to be an open space for students who are native and who are not native to talk about native issues,” Matsumoto said. “I don’t think there is a lot of open space for that necessarily on campus.”

Both Matsumoto and Harvey said their current focus is to recruit more members for the organization. The club has 40 to 50 people on its email list, but there have been only seven or eight people at the first two meetings of this semester.

“We are still relatively a new club,” Harvey said. “There are a lot of people who are like, ‘I want to join this club and I want to learn,’ but then of course you have to work around their schedules and work around our schedules to get everything off the ground.”

Harvey also said that in order to introduce issues specific to the Amherst College community consistently in the long run, the club needs to draw in more members.

The Native American Students Organization has members extending from beyond the mainland United States. Matsumoto identifies as native Hawaiian and Harvey is one-sixteenth Pequot or Narragansett.

So far, the group has had discussions about how Native Americans are perceived in the media, micro-aggression on campus and the debate over blood quota, a measure used to determine tribal membership.

“With Native American tribes, you have to be a certain amount of blood of that tribe to be included in that tribe,” Matsumoto said. “Different tribes have different [quotas], like you have to be half or have to be full to be included in the tribe.”

Matsumoto said this topic was interesting for her because in Hawaii, it would be difficult to find someone who is one fourth native Hawaiian, but said that another girl who attended the meeting said that in her tribe, one has to be at least half to be included and live on the reservation.

One of the biggest initiatives taken by Native American Students Organization was the Native American outreach program as part of the Diversity Open House last semester. Seven students participated in activities focusing on Native American scholarships and student life. The students toured the Special Archives, focusing on the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Collection and were introduced to the Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies Program.

“We took [the participants] around [Amherst] for the whole day and talked to them about the school and I know that a few of them want to come to Amherst, and we are hoping that that will help expand the amount of people [who are native],” Harvey said.

According to Matsumoto and Harvey, Native American Students Organization does not have any major events coming up in the near future, but is in discussions with other student groups, such as the International Student Association, to plan joint events. The club has had two meetings so far this semester and meets every other week in the Multicultural Resource Center.