[center]Founded in 1855, East Lansing has long been the home of MSU. Residents and students take pride in this school\’s history. Rarely, however, do students think of a time before the region was painted green and white, before UGGS and iPods were ever plenty. Long before the Spartans roamed the Lansing area, the Anishnaabe inhabited mid-Michigan.
\”Anishnaabe\” means \”the original people\” in different forms of the Algonquian language, elucidating the deep roots of American Indian history and culture present in the Lansing area. Descendents honor their ancestors by continuing tribal traditions and educating community members about their people.
\”There are many native cultures, not just one,\” Susan Applegate Krouse, associate professor of anthropology and AISP director, said. \”Learning about these people and the Three Fires teaches students about the history of this area and to have respect for the original inhabitants. It also creates a better understanding of the relationships between tribal governments and the United States government.\”
The Great Lakes region is home to tribes who lived peacefully on the land before European settlement, beginning with the French in the fifteenth century. These tribes continue to thrive and include the Three Fires: the Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwa [or Chippewa.]
Residents of East Lansing and surrounding areas are able to enjoy the presence of the Nokomis Learning Center, an American Indian cultural center in Okemos. The center promotes an understanding of the dynamic past of the Anishinaabe people to the surrounding community through interactive learning and the utilization of the senses. [banks]
\”There is a natural curiosity about native people – about who we are and what we do – and we try our best to fulfill that educational need at the Nokomis Learning Center,\” Nokomis Learning Center executive director Janis Fairbanks said. This is achieved through a strong dedication to the preservation and presentation of history, arts and culture. The cultural center provides exhibitions, programs and special events to the public and frequently arranges group programs for schools and scouting organizations. \”Native Cycles, Sacred Circles\” is the central group program which gives visitors an introduction to the tribes of Michigan and specifically those of the region.
[wheel]Those simply looking to spend an inexpensive and informative afternoon with a small group of friends or family may attend for $3 per person. An estimated 2,500 students took advantage of this opportunity and experienced the true value of their spare change in 2006. Visitors may take tours of the art exhibits and learn about the significant symbol of the Medicine Wheel. According to the Canadian Health Network, \”the number four is sacred to the Aboriginal People of North America. The Medicine Wheel is an ancient North American abstract symbol that stands for \’the sacredness of four.\’ Usually, four spokes create four quadrants of the wheel. The four quadrants can represent many different ideas or concepts in their relationship to each other, the universe and the individual, Examples include directions, seasons, stages of life, and parts of a person including mental, physical, spiritual and emotional.\”
\”The fact that we have a Native American cultural center in the area is very important because there are a lot of people out there who want to learn more,\” Fairbanks said. \”The phone calls and questions that I receive on a daily basis are what form my ideas for new programs.\”
A future program is in the works that will spotlight tribal sovereignty, treaties and contemporary issues facing American Indian communities. This will supplement the free lecture series available on contemporary concerns, the 2006-2007 topic being \”Gender Diversity in Great Lakes Native Communities\” and taking place at the cultural center on the first Tuesday of every month.
On April 3, Dr. Heather Howard, an ethnohistorian who has worked in the US and Canada, will be speaking. Howard is a former Nokomis Learning Center board member and will be directing her lecture toward women in her speech, \”Anishinaabekweg in the Meeting Place: Native Women Building Community in Toronto.\”
Leaders who have skills on canvas, as well as those who have a way with words, frequent the cultural center and provide for fascinating exhibits. The latest art exhibit is \”Blood Memories\” by Chicano and Latin studies and Native American studies senior Rachel Dennis. The exhibit is a series of paintings and drawings presented as a fusion of contemporary urban culture and the simplicity of the past. The display of her artwork is evidence of the lasting relationships that the center continues to form with the student population – both by supporting talents of native students and encouraging the spread of knowledge through various outlets.
[pretty]Students have many means to explore the heritage of their homeland through the American Indian Studies Program, which offers MSU students an opportunity to take courses in a wide range of disciplines relating to several facets of American Indian history and culture to obtain a specialization. The program covers courses in the fields of anthropology, law, family and child ecology, history, linguistics and languages, nursing, religion, social work and writing, rhetoric and American culture.
\”I took ANP 433 – Contemporary American Indian Communities – because I knew very little about American Indian culture and thought it would be an amazing supplement in my religious studies major and to [further] my knowledge of native religion and spirituality,\” Kristy Slominski, a religious studies senior, said in an e-mail interview. \”Dr. Susan Applegate Krouse has given the course a really unique emphasis on contemporary community construction. I think all MSU students would benefit from a similar course. It has helped me to wrap my head around the government policies and unique history that has contributed to very complex modern American Indian identities.\”
American studies professor George Cornell currently teaches HST 379 – Native Americans in North American History from 1830. His course focuses on the unfolding of the North American continent and the relationship of the American Indians to those developments. Cornell works specifically with students of native ancestry in his role as Director of the Native American Institute. Approved by the MSU Board of Trustees in 1981, the NAI supports North American Indian organizations and tribal governments. There are striking differences between the tribal governments of past generations and the forms of government currently in place on reservations, which have become more democratic through influence of the federal system.
MSU administration members, as well as students wishing to pursue or strengthen ties to native people, may collaborate with the NAI or join other campus organizations for outreach to create campus awareness.
The faculty and staff organization, Educating Anishnaabe: Giving, Learning and Empowering (EAGLE), and the undergraduate student organization, North American Indian Student Organization (NAISO), are open to those with this desire.
It\’s easy to think of East Lansing as a place for studying and partying, but the history of the area runs deep. Campus groups, lecture series and the Nokomis Learning Center are attempting to spread knowledge of Lansing\’s often overlooked past, a time long before 1855.

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