Throughout the month of November, to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, we asked four students to reflect on their Indigeneity and culture.

Carley Malloy

Carley Malloy ’22

Majors: American studies, education studies and geology with a Five Colleges certificate in Native and Indigenous studies

Heritage: Potawatomi

“My ancestors not only stayed alive, but also survived in a way that allowed us to be Native as well, by carrying on tradition and culture, even when they didn't feel safe to do [so]... My tribe was in the Great Lakes until 1838. Then, a large portion of us were removed to Kansas and then further removed to Oklahoma. Our removal was called the Trail of Death. My ancestors were part of the group of Potawatomi that were removed from our homelands, but not all of us had to leave. Luckily, there are still Potawatomi people in the Great Lakes today. ... [After removal, my ancestors] eventually got sent to Oklahoma and to a boarding school. That's really when assimilation happens, when you're taken off of your land and you can't use your language or practice your culture. Because our language is so directly connected to the land, most of our words correlate to a way of life in the Great Lakes. When you're not on your land, you don't have those land relationships so language isn't utilized as well. 

“During the time my ancestors were forced to go to a Catholic boarding school, they weren’t allowed to practice language or traditions and instead taught this religious, Western, very gendered way of living. … I believe the issue that some of my ancestors had, and so many Native people have is that when you're told for so long that it's not okay to be Native and it's not okay to practice your culture or honor how you were raised, you really start to believe that, and you start to lose those things that make you, you. You lose those traditions, you lose those connections and those memories. … In my family's history of being removed to Oklahoma, there was a lot of loss but more importantly, there is survival as well. Hard fought survival. Obviously, I am living proof of that survival.”

Emma Cape

Emma Cape ’22

Majors: English and American studies, concentration in Native American studies

Heritage: Ojibwe and Lenape

“[My Indigeneity] hasn't always been something that I have been as vocal about as I am now... But as I got older, particularly when I reached high school age, I just became—for whatever reason—a lot more curious to know more. Growing up, I always knew yes, I'm Native. I'm Ojibwe and Lenape. But in terms of cultural practices, cultural relationships and things of that nature, that wasn't really something that I had explored much until I had reached high school, and I did so largely through my grandpa, because he's one of the older generational members of my family that still holds a lot of that knowledge. So I tapped into him and used him as a resource quite a bit. Ever since, my relationship to my Indigeneity is something that has very much blossomed over the years. Surprisingly, Amherst was really helpful with that… 

“I never envisioned myself leaving Kansas, because although I don't live within a tribal community, my family [has been in Great Bend, Kansas] for generations… So coming to Amherst then, I thought, was going to sever my relationship to my family and thus my Indigeneity. I'm glad to say now, of course, it did exactly the opposite, because I got here and Amherst has a wonderful Native community that is growing year by year. We have wonderful Indigenous professors and support systems in Lisa Brooks, Henry S. Poler ‘59 Presidential Teaching professor of English and American studies, and Kiara Vigil, associate professor of American studies. We also have wonderful support in non-Native staff, such as Mike Kelly, head of archives and special collections, and the archives. So, my relationship with my Indigeneity is something that continues to grow every day, but it's also something that I make an active choice to continue to grow in and learn in. Coming to Amherst with this identity and then having the tools that Amherst has provided me with has really allowed me to work on decolonizing how I think about Indigeneity—that is what it means to be Indigenous, especially in a climate where society tells you that to be Native is to look and act a certain way."

Sage Innerarity

Sage Innerarity ’22

Majors: English and American studies, concentration in Native studies

Heritage: Northern Sierra Miwok

“[When I played softball in high school], I happened to [be] seen by one of the Amherst coaches. The coach [said to] me, “Oh, you’re Native. There's a program called Native American Overnight, and there's a Diversity Open House [now known as Access to Amherst]. You should apply for that.” And I was like, “Okay, sure.” So I applied to it, and I got in and came [to Amherst]. The first two nights, it was just the Native students. We did dinners, and we hung out. I [thought], 'Wow, this is awesome.' We got to [have] a real talk with [other Native students] where we [asked] questions about what it’s like actually being a Native student here, without anybody in the room looking to see if they were giving the brochure answers. I just really appreciated all of their honesty and the fact that it always came back to ‘we have each other.’ When it gets tough, that's who we lean on. 

“So I [thought] this is definitely the community for me. Coming in, I [thought it] would be really cool to be a part of something bigger. It would be cool to be a part of growing, fostering and creating a community. … If Native students see me coming in, they’re more likely to want to be here. I just really liked that there was a kindness. Even if it was small, it was a very strong community. It was very bonded. And I think that's definitely been the case throughout my years here. It was a community that I immediately [thought], ‘Wow, I can be a part of this.’ And this is a place that I can come into, knowing that I have friends and I have people who understand my experience here in a way that maybe other folks can’t.”

Zoe Callan

Zoe Sloan Callan ’25

Major: Undecided

Heritage: Navajo

“For a long time, I didn't feel like I was Navajo enough. I have light skin. I have bluish, greenish, grayish eyes that are most certainly not brown. I didn't know very much about the culture. I didn't know very much about the language, because we didn't really have access to that very much. I definitely did not feel Native enough. Something that helped with that was getting to have my Kindaalda, which is a Navajo coming-of-age ceremony for young girls when they get their first period. … That led to a really strong connection that I felt with my culture. Then for high school, I got to go to the Native American Community Academy, which is a charter school in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That was really influential. … 

“It's a school for Indigenous students specifically. Anyone can go there, but the goal is to educate Indigenous students, to educate them in their culture, to try to teach them through a Native lens. For example, when I had English my freshmen and sophomore year, it wasn't English; it was Native American literature. I had Indigenous studies classes. When we had our language classes, [they] weren't the traditional Spanish, French, etc. We had Indigenous languages. So we had Navajo and Lakota, which were open to anyone. Then there was also a Keres class, a Tiwa class, and a Zuni class. But those three were only open to registered members of the tribes that spoke them. 

“It was really nice being able to learn more of the traditional Navajo language. I had Navajo classes for two years, that's actually where I learned my traditional introduction. I [now] know some basic Navajo. I don't know enough to have a conversation in Navajo, and I definitely do wish I knew more. But I do know a little bit, and I know a little bit more about the culture. I know more stories. I know a few more practices. … I feel a lot more comfortable with it now. I definitely know that I'm Navajo, and I don't feel as much as if I'm not Navajo enough. My family has certainly helped with that. [They say], ‘Of course you're enough, Zoe.’”