November was Native American Heritage month and is heavily celebrated within the Native American communities throughout Arizona. Throughout this month Arizona State University has had various events and presentations for students to learn more about Native culture, traditions, and heritage.
Shanice Dempsey is a Native student at ASU studying dietetics who came from a Northern Arizona reservation.
“When I moved to Phoenix I had no idea about how many different tribes were here,” said Dempsey. She has met students from different tribes and has used that to expand her knowledge of other tribes’ traditions.
One of the events held at ASU was a presentation of cultural and historical identity through traditional art items, given by Royce Manuel.
Manuel educates people throughout Arizona about the use of agave plants and their primary use for the traditional baskets, brushes, bows, arrows, and other forms of cultural art. During the presentation, students were given the opportunity to ask Manuel questions regarding his specific tribal traditions and the significance of his heritage throughout his life.
“Understand the power that was and is, identity,” said Manuel. “For us, we’re still struggling with that.”
According to Manuel, his inspiration comes from his grandparents. His grandparents taught him traditions and important aspects of their culture that can now only be seen through glass cases and written testimonies in museums. He wishes the things his grandparents did can be endured and done by someone today.
As elders in tribes are getting older, he wishes to educate young people on the parts of their culture that have been lost in history.
“I don’t want you guys to hear stories or see things at museums to know your own culture,” said Manuel. “I want young people to know about these things and keep them alive even after the elders are gone.”
Apart from using agave as part of their cultural livelihood, Manuel’s wife Debbie shared her use of agave in modern therapeutic coping. From hosting workshops, Debbie has witnessed the settling and calming energy that comes with working with agave hands-on.
“When we think about our professions and our careers we both work with people who are really struggling,” said Debbie. “I think this is like a healing method for people who are hurting, or grieving or finding ways to cope.”
Nutrition and American Indian Studies student, Savanna Castorena, met Debbie and Royce Manuel at one of their tool-making workshops earlier this year. She has used the information taught in these workshops and presentations to help understand culture teachings that were not recorded down within their tribe history.
“I want to share this information with the community,” said Castorena. “My plan after college is to integrate our culture with modern healthcare to help Natives struggling on reservations. Not just about nutrition or desert foods, but about the land we are on and the community we have.”