Native American panel discusses identity

SJSU’s Native American Student Organization (NASO) hosted a Native American Student Panel Nov. 17 as part of its Native American Heritage month activities.

Joey Montoya,’ 17 Advertising and a graphic design minor, founded NASO as a way for students with indigenous roots to connect. He and three other panelists shared their stories of identity, struggling with stereotypes and how to support future generations.

The other panelists included off-campus representatives Michael Andrews, a youth engagement coordinator at the Indian Health Center of the Santa Clara Valley; Mia Ritter-Whittle, a Stanford student who serves as the programming chair for the Stanford American Indian Organization; and Megan Red-Shirt Shaw, a writer who founded the online literary publication Natives In America and works at Santa Clara University as an assistant director of admissions.

“I grew up in San Francisco and being there, the community is diverse,” Montoya said. “But the one thing you don’t see is Natives.”

Montoya, who is Lipan Apache from Texas, said he struggled with who he was and who he wanted to be. But he sought out more about his family history after his father passed away.

“My experience was unique because I grew up in a biracial household,” Shaw said, noting that her mother spoke the language of the Oglala Sioux and taught her many traditions.

It was in elementary school when she first became aware of her identity when a girl in second grade dressed up in a Native American costume.

In discussing how to support Native American youth from reservations and those who’ve grown up in urban settings, the panelists said they didn’t have any easy answers. But they expressed the need to support education and allow youth an opportunity to be leaders in their tribes as a starting point.

The panelists also expressed a feeling that sometimes others think of Native Americans as a people from the past and the importance of making their existence more visible through art, music or publications.

“There are a lot of native artists and scholars out there,” Ritter-Whittle said, who is from the Caddo and Delaware Nations of Oklahoma. “Sharing that is really important.”

Andrews, who is Ojibwe, Sac and Fox, Kickapoo and Pauite, said it is important for people of color to stand up for themselves. He said even though some Native Americans might allow others to say racial things “it creates self-hate.”

“Speak up for yourself,” he said. “Give yourself a voice.”

Upcoming events:

Native American Student Organization Social

Nov. 18, from 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Mosaic Cross Cultural Center

Film screening: “On the Ice”

Nov. 19, from 6-7:30 p.m.

Mosaic Cross Cultural Center

Muwekma Ohlone Exhibit

Through Nov. 25

Fifth floor of the Martin Luther King Jr. Library