Indigenous Gathering Week, organized by Michaela Talksabout and Tauzha Grantham of Native American Outreach at Rocky, took place from Friday, September 19 to Saturday, October 1, ultimately ending in Rocky Mountain College’s campus powwow on Saturday evening.
“The Indigenous Gathering Week has been in the works for a little under a year,” Talksabout said. “When we did the lighting of the tipi’s last November, I had long talks with students on what we’d like to do this year. These last five months were when the logistics were figured out.”
Festivities kicked off with the annual Lighting of the Tipis on Friday, September 23, sending out a fluorescent heartbeat throughout campus.
Several tipis were visible across the grounds and available for students and faculty to enter during the day, constructed in different ways depending upon the tribe, respectively.
“I chose the events that I felt represented the different students on campus,” Talksabout said. “For example, I’ve met students active in powwow or in the art community. Creating a space for them to be seen, not for where they come from, but for who they are as individuals can help build that foundation to better support them.”
An hour of songs and stories around the fire took place the following evening atop the campus green on Saturday from 8-9 p.m.
A candlelight vigil was held for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) near the RMC entrance sign on Poly Dr. on Sunday.
According to a recent report from the Montana Department of Justice, indigneous people accounted for nearly a third of all 2021 missing persons reports in Montana, a majority of whom were under the age of 18, despite only making up 7% of the state’s total population.
Monday gave host to a student and alumni luncheon in the Great Room of Prescott, which was followed by a resource tabling in Fraley Lounge on Tuesday.
“I wanted to plan these events because I wanted to celebrate how diversified indigenous people are within our own people,” Talksabout said. “I always knew our interests and beliefs were different within tribal communities, but after my position here at Rocky and getting to know our students I realized even more that we needed to celebrate that diversity.”
Wednesday’s series of traditional games was followed by self-care activities on Thursday, including a medicine pouch-making station.
Students combined cedar, lavender, and sage in green and gold fabric squares tied tight with ribbon and played checkers on the green while enjoying a variety of candy.
Talksabout said, “I was surprised at how many of our students attended the events. The turnout was exactly what I hoped for. My goals in attendance were simple; if one of these days brought something to one or two of our native students, I would be happy.”
A showing of the Indigenous Art Exhibit occurred from 5-7 pm at Ryniker-Morrison Gallery located in Tech Hall on Friday.
The exhibition included works by Sean Chandler, Lauren Monroe, Ben Pease, Kevin Red Star, Kaitlin Shoulderblade, and Bently Spang, alongside artwork by Rocky Mountain College students as well as students from Medicine Crow Middle School and Skyview High School.
Lauren Monroe conducted a lecture on his work at 6:30 pm, marking the first implementation of the annual native art exhibition in the gallery.
Tribes represented in the art show included Northern Cheyenne, Little Shell, Apsáalooke, Aaniiih, Tsétsêhéstâhese, Crow, Blackfeet, Navajo, White Mountain Apache, Oneida of Wisconsin, Absentee Shawnee, and Northern Arapaho.
Saturday’s powwow had to be moved indoors due to weather conditions, but otherwise proceeded as planned from 6-10 pm.
“From the beginning I only ever wanted our Rocky Mountain College Native American students to feel supported and seen. I wanted them to feel proud to be their authentic selves. I wanted to put RMC on the radar of our large Native American population in Billings. Working in Native American Outreach to me means being able to honestly tell families and communities that their students WILL be supported. The Indigenous Gathering Week was one of many ways we can do that.”