Native American Heritage Month starts with opening proclamation

The clear sky and crisp breeze made last Thursday the perfect day for the Native American Heritage Month Opening Proclamation. Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Nicole Morgan Agard began the ceremony with a speech dedicated to the Ramapo Munsee Lenape Nation and Ramapo’s first-generation students. 

During her speech, Agard requested the first-generation attendees to raise their hands to receive applause from the rest of the audience. 

Agard then welcomed President Jebb to the podium. Back in August 2022, Jebb formally acknowledged Ramapo’s standing on Ramapo Munsee Lenape land, making her the first president in the college’s history to do so. 

President Jebb restated Ramapo’s solidarity with the Ramapo Munsee Lenape Nation. “On behalf of Ramapo College, we acknowledge our presence on the traditional and ancestral land of the Ramapo Munsee Lenape peoples,” she said. 

Succeeding President Jebb at the podium was Student Affairs Coordinator Ivy Payne. She noted the most memorable change during her years at Ramapo was President Jebb’s land acknowledgment. 

“This act has forged a stronger relationship between the tribe and the college. The land acknowledgement was a huge step in the right direction, as it reminds folk we are still here and we have never left our homeland,” she said. 

The ancestral territory of the Ramapo Munsee Lenape tribe once spanned from western Connecticut to eastern Pennsylvania and from Albany, New York down towards the Raritan River’s north bank. Today, the tribe owns seven miles of land in the highlands of the Ramapo Mountains, along the border of New York and New Jersey. 

Ivy Payne’s account of her years at Ramapo ended the proclamation speeches. She began working for Ramapo when she was 15 years old through a program dedicated to job training Native American youth, which was an experience she remembers fondly.

“We as tribal members are continuously learning about our history from the remaining elders of the tribe, because the fact remains that the history that is currently written about us is not by us and is not always factual or in good taste,” she said. 

Payne brushed her hair to coincide with the wind before continuing. “In most Indigenous communities, traditions and history are passed down orally, which is the case with my people. That is why it is so important that we celebrate and learn about all cultures and allow those members to educate us with their facts,” she said.

She ended by repeating “anushiik,” which means “thank you” in Munsee. She then introduced the Spirit of the Mountain Singers, who performed two songs using a powwow drum. 

The term “powwow” is rooted in the Algonquian language. Initially, the word referred to a healing moment, then transitioned in the early 20th century to represent customary gatherings, particularly of Plains cultures.

The Great Plains of the United States and Canada contain Indigenous grassland between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, encompassing what is known today as Texas in the U.S. and Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. Powwow songs often mirror the musical style of the Plains region, with singers accompanying themselves using a large bass drum, collectively drumming and creating a deeply melodic sound. 

EDIC will be hosting events that center Indigenous cultures for Native American Heritage Month throughout November.


Featured photo by Keely Lombardi