Jalen Rose | Correspondent
“When I was a kid,” said Ryan Emanuel, Associate Professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, “there was point where I believed my immediate family were the only Natives in the world.
“Growing up, I had no context for how Native people were treated until high school when you really start to learn about the true history of the United States going beyond the textbook,” Emanuel said. “The treatment of indigenous peoples has kept me in a constant state of worry pertaining to what the government could possibly do next.”
Indigenous peoples’ voices and experiences are uplifted throughout November in recognition of Native American Heritage Month. One topic that tends to be overshadowed when referring to indigenous peoples’ experiences is mental health. Being subjected to the hardships of neglect can impact mental health significantly.
Native Americans have long endured the political turmoil of the United States. From constant persecution to blatant neglect, the ongoing turmoil can be mentally and emotionally taxing.
During the 2018 midterm elections, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids were the first two Native American women elected to serve in Congress.
“The results were exciting at first but it’s challenging to always be on the back burner,” said April Hammonds, the assistant director for intercultural initiatives in Multicultural Student Affairs. “Recently, there were some laws passed that restrict tribal identification to qualify as a voter id. It definitely has its pluses and minuses.”
Hammonds is referring to the law that was passed in North Dakota during the last midterm election. According to Katie Reilly in her article for TIME, the law “requires voters to present identification that displays a street address and disproportionately affects Native Americans on reservations, where street addresses are not common.”
Amberlina Alston, a fourth-year studying psychology and the president of the Native American Student Association, said, “The election of two Native women is a great step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.”
Many of the Native American students at NC State are from the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina, which has been fighting to be federally recognized as an American Indian tribe for over a century. The fight continues today.
“The government’s attitude towards my tribe in particular (Lumbee) and towards indigenous peoples in general has caused a low-level stress that stays in the back of my mind,” Emanuel said.
Beyond systemic issues, interpersonal interactions can also impact indigenous people. Hammonds’ coping methods for this treatment involve understanding and attempting to educate the misinformed.
“People ask these very stereotypical things and I had to learn as a young college student how to answer these questions,” said Hammonds. “It’s one of those things where I have to decide if I’m going to come off as angry or am I going to take these questions as a moment to turn them around and educate. I try to cope by helping navigate the conversation.”
Alston has a very similar coping method, as she believes in spreading awareness to those around her. “I feel like my job is to bring awareness to the people who have never met or interacted with Native Americans and remind them that we still exist,” she said.
Alston also believes that staying prideful in her identity is very important.
“Culture is a stronghold for us. Keeping that alive and starting that fire can be enough,” Alston said.
Emanuel believes that recognizing his ancestor’s struggles can be very helpful.
“Our ancestors were treated terribly but they survived,” Emanuel. “They were able to give rise to people like you and me. They were forward-looking and didn’t give up. They focused on mental and emotional sustainability. We get to do the same.”
*Editor’s Note: The spelling of Ryan Emanuel’s name has been corrected.