Native American Heritage Month inspires conversations about sustainability

Photo by Tori D'Amico

The Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance (EDIC) led a Walk and Talk on Wednesday, Nov. 17 to educate attendees on how Native Americans use resources from the land. The event was held in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. 

For hundreds of years, members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation have preserved land and life in the Ramapough Mountains. Their heritage is important to recognize and support, as there are still active members to this day. 

“I think throughout the year we should continue to learn more,” Associate Director of EDIC Rachel Sawyer said, expressing how important it is for members of the community to continue to focus on these topics, even outside of November.

Some ways students can support the lands which the tribes have founded include indulging in a more sustainable lifestyle. Ramapo, along with its SGA Sustainability Committee and other active groups on campus, are working towards providing the community with new ways to make smarter, sustainable choices. 

Current tasks the college is working towards include a native plant meadow located behind the Sharp Sustainability Education Center — which would help support natural plant life, offering compost bins open to the public — located at the College Park Apartments (CPAs) and the Village residencies, working towards becoming completely Fair Trade and being zero-waste. These initiatives benefit the environment’s lifespan and the people within the community, especially those of minority groups. 

As a campus, it is evident that there are efforts made towards becoming more sustainable in a way that can preserve the ancestral land the college is built on. At the Walk and Talk, Sawyer shared facts about how tribes in surrounding areas survive their living conditions.

The Lenape tribe, for instance, used rocks, shells, bones and wood for building survival components, such as shelters and daily tools. Families made villages out of clay that would house 20 to 30 members and be sufficient throughout the seasons. Circumstances changed for the tribes once Europeans arrived and colonized their pre-established community.

The Europeans came with tools and supplies that were made of sturdier materials, such as kitchen pots and weapons — indicating a stark contrast from the supplies and materials the Natives were accustomed to. 

Since then, public recognitions fall flat when attributing the Native folks who founded and preserved lands long before others colonized it. Despite living in such a culturally diverse area, the current Ramapo community is not educated enough on the significance of their living environment and how Native American lives continue to be affected. 

“I feel like I have learned so much with just the programs I’ve been doing, so my hope is to just get more people excited about it and incorporate it normally into our lives,” said Sawyer.

On Wednesday night, Birch Tree Inn served traditional dishes in honor of Native American Heritage Month. The dishes included catfish with pine nuts, Three Sisters Savory Cobbler, Iroquois Succotash and wild rice sauté with sweet potatoes. Information on the dishes and their relevance to indigenous communities were placed near the food options, and Sawyer was around to answer questions and promote the special servings. 

It is with small yet significant incorporations like these that help Ramapo and its community become more aware of and engaged with the diversity around them. Minor changes to diet, living styles and learning to live more sustainably can greatly impact the preservation of the ancestral land that belongs to the Ramapough Lenape Nation. 

To wrap up Native American Heritage Month, EDIC is expected to welcome Chief Dwaine Perry of the Ramapough Lenape Nation to speak on campus at the end of the month. For more information and updates from EDIC, refer to their webpage or Instagram @rcnj_edic.