Native Americans Honored at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU

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Audience watches the Native American Spirit dancers outside the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
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In light of November being Native American month, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University held an event Monday honoring Native American culture through film and dance.

Native American Heritage Month, also commonly referred to American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month was recently recognized almost two decades ago.

According to the website for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the month of November is a “time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the contributions of Native people.”

The site also states that the month is ideal in teaching the public about tribes and raising awareness about challenges Native people face.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there was solely a day dedicated to recognizing the first Americans and their contributions to the United States, according to the website.

In 1915, the annual meeting of the Congress of the American Indian Association officially confirmed the decision for an American Indian Day. The president of the association, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, called for a proclamation on Sept. 28, 1915 to make the second Saturday of May American Indian Day.

However, it wasn’t until 1990 that the U.S. decided to change it to a month.

Former president George H.W. Bush approved for November being “National American Indian Heritage Month.”

The event on Monday at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law began with food and refreshments, followed by dance performances from native spirit dancers.

Post dance performance, there was a film screening of “Honor Riders” directed by Ralphina Hernandez.

In reference to the Red Nation Film Festival’s website, the film captures a “group of individuals brought together to support the military service personnel: Past and Present.”

Those who participate in the annual honor rides are from the Navajo and Hopi tribes. The combination of the two tribes riding together is important as the tribes are known for having discord between them.

It began in 2003 to honor Lori Piestewa who was the first female Native American killed in combat.

Riding from Arizona to Colorado, these riders, from the Navajo and Hopi tribes, ride to honor veterans.

Kris Beecher, vice president of the Native American Law Students Association, and his wife Melissa Beecher, president of the American Indian Social Work Student Association, were associate producers of the film, doing most of the camera and audio work.

Kris Beecher said they began the documentary in 2011.

“It takes a long time to shoot documentary films when the events are only every year,” Kris Beecher said. “It took some time, but we eventually got to the point where we had a lot of material.”

Beecher added that one of the things he wants people to take away from the film is that the issues that Native American veterans face aren’t any different than normal, non-Native American veterans.

“You can see that maybe some of these ways that we honor our veterans help heal the people that have lost their loved ones or the people that come back home, and help to heal them after they’ve gone to war and come back,” Beecher said.

Using some of the same types of methods, presented in the film, can help all veterans, not just Native Americans, Beecher said. He said that it can be a regular veteran and that it’s important to look at that cultural significance as a potential way to help veterans.

Melissa Beecher said that people should be aware that there are 567 tribes that are just federally recognized, 22 of them here in Arizona.

“They all have their own different language, different philosophies, different customs, so there’s just not one type,” Melissa Beecher said.

There’s always going to be Native Americans serving in the military and that people watching the film should know that when their family is deployed, that they should be ready to help them succeed when they return from whatever conflict they’re in, Hernandez said.

Melissa Beecher said that there’s a rich Native American history here in Arizona, and that she hopes people can recognize that they are similar to all people.

“Treat them (Native Americans) like everybody else, just with respect and get to know them one-on-one and just learn more,” Beecher said.

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