Article Originally Published by Cristóbal Soto on North Texas Daily
In partnership with the UNT Native American Student Association (NASA), the university announced it will dedicate a permanent on-campus site to acknowledge the Indigenous peoples who originally inhabited the land the university occupies.
The site will feature alternating art installations every three to five years by student artists, or by other guest artists. The site is planned to open to the public by fall 2021 during a gathering ceremony hosted by NASA.
“It’s time to talk about it,” NASA President Lane Barrett said. “It’s time to acknowledge those people and acknowledge the land.”
The university is built on historically Wichita and Caddo tribal lands which encompassed parts of north and east Texas.
The announcement is in conjunction with the university’s second year officially observing Indigenous People’s Day on Oct. 15, which NASA aided in instituting last year. This time around, however, the organization had to change its approach in celebrating the holiday as the COVID-19 pandemic has made public gatherings dangerous to facilitate and the university restricts student organizations from hosting events on campus.
“We were just so heartbroken at the fact we couldn’t have this huge celebration like we did last year,” Barrett said. “So we thought that instead of having this big event why not instead have this huge announcement.”
Plans for the project began during the spring semester and garnered support from the College of Visual Arts and Design, specifically through Studio Art professor Alicia Eggert.
During the fall semester, Eggert teaches Intermediate Sculpture: Art in Public. This year’s class project involves students designing and submitting artwork proposals to be considered in becoming the first piece to be featured within the land acknowledgment installation, Eggert said.
“I saw this as an opportunity for students in this class to actually have a real-life project that they could propose ideas for that would potentially be funded and executed and not just an imaginary situation,” Eggert said. “It seemed like a great opportunity for collaboration and professionalism.”
Eggert also said she believes this is the perfect time for a project of this kind in light of the national conversation of the removal of confederate monuments from public spaces. Earlier this year saw the removal of the Denton County Confederate soldiers monument from the Square after years of disputes.
“This is the perfect time — the right time — to be creating an acknowledgment like this,” Eggert said. “It is basically the kind of monument that I think deserves to be in public space.”
Since late September, NASA members have become reoccurring guest lecturers during Eggert’s class to share fair and accurate depictions of Native American peoples and cultures to assist students in their creations, Barrett said.
“Native cultures, native peoples are hardly ever talked about let alone celebrated and so it’s hard to know how to go about that in a way that is appropriate,” Barrett said. “So when I’m there in class I’m just kinda filtering out those thoughts and ideas.”
Topics presented by NASA members have included the effects sports mascots have had on the perception of Native Americans, and how acknowledgment can help relieve the effects of generational trauma experienced within the community, Eggert said.
One student in Eggert’s class and a member of NASA, Cody Norton, said the project is an opportunity for him to reconnect with his personal heritage. For his art piece, Norton said he plans to work with another classmate in creating a medicine wheel that depicts various spiritual concepts and is used across different Native cultures.
“I’m Blackfoot Sioux, and I’m learning more and more about my heritage every day because my grandma and her parents had to go through the boarding schools and so it stripped them of their heritage,” Norton said. “It’s a project about not just me but every Native American student here at UNT.”
A selection committee will decide which student proposal will become the first to be on display and approved by university administration in December, according to the UNT NASA website.
Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles
Source: North Texas Daily