NACC keynote speaker showcases Indigenous representation

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Collegian | Brian Peña

Katherine Borsting, Staff reporter

As the month of November continues on and the weather begins to chill, it is important to remember this month also marks Native American Heritage Month. Colorado State University’s Native American Cultural Center is holding events all month to highlight the importance of Native American culture.

Nov. 10, the NACC hosted keynote speaker D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, an actor in the show “Reservation Dogs.” During his discussion at CSU, he highlighted the importance of Native American culture within television along with how it is to work on a mostly Indigenous-run set.

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The event began with a viewing of the first episode of season two of “Reservation Dogs,” which can be streamed on Hulu. The show highlights four Indigenous teens in rural Oklahoma living among their Indigenous families and experiencing struggles and learning about their culture.

After the episode ended, Woon-A-Tai, who plays Bear Smallhill on the show, came out and went more in depth on his experience and how “Reservation Dogs” represents Indigenous people.

“People forget we had representation before in the media, except it was negative and stereotypical,” Woon-A-Tai said.

He said this in regard to how Native American culture has been portrayed in the past. He went on to explain the important thing about “Reservation Dogs” is that it has Indigenous people in all departments running the show, along with most of the actors being Indigenous.

“Having an accurate representation of Native peoples in the media is critical because it gives Native peoples a chance to truly show our expansive culture. It also allows us to move beyond the monolithic notions of who and what Native peoples are.” -Rasa Humeyumptewa, NACC student success coordinator

As Woon-A-Tai went on, he also pointed out how the show has funny qualities that make it enjoyable to watch. 

“The show discusses Indigenous issues that need to be noticed, but they do it in a humorous way,” Woon-A-Tai said. 

He made it a point to mention if you’re going to make fun of anyone, make fun of yourself first, which is something the show does but not in a disrespectful way. 

Rasa Humeyumptewa, student success coordinator for the NACC, explained why this type of representation in the media and events such as this are important to have. 

“Having an accurate representation of Native peoples in the media is critical because it gives Native peoples a chance to truly show our expansive culture,” Humeyumptewa said. “It also allows us to move beyond the monolithic notions of who and what Native peoples are.”

She went on to explain the importance of Native American Heritage Month and how the recognition of Native hardships is necessary. She described how these issues are not just restricted to Native people within the United States but all over the world. 

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“The best way for non-Native folks to be more aware of the Indigenous community is to educate yourself,” Humeyumptewa said. “This means not only looking up the history of what land you are on.”

This is important especially at CSU, as it is a land-grant institution, meaning the land was taken from Natives in order to build the university. It also means events often begin with the reading of the Land Acknowledgment, which discusses how CSU is placed upon Arapaho, Cheyenne and Ute tribe lands. 

This keynote speaker event highlighted the importance of supporting Indigenous creators and artists as well as explained how to be conscious of Native cultures — not only at CSU but everywhere.

Reach Katherine Borsting at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @katbor2025