Native dancers performed at UNT's 2018 celebration
Native dancers performed at UNT's 2018 celebration

President Neal Smatresk has declared Tuesday, Oct. 15, Indigenous Peoples' Day at UNT, an annual holiday to celebrate and honor the history and culture of Native American and indigenous peoples.

“We believe this first step to begin strengthening UNT's relationship with native students, faculty and communities will better foster our mission as a university,” Smatresk said in his message announcing the annual celebration. “Please join me in acknowledging the roots and histories of our Native American students, faculty and staff, and in making UNT a more welcoming place for students from all cultures.”

Some of UNT's earliest students were Native Americans. In the second 10-week term of 1890 — the school's founding year — 28 students from the Muscogee Creek tribe in Oklahoma, then known as Indian Territory, were enrolled. Their numbers helped the struggling school continue to offer classes. Today, Native American students make up 1.3 percent of the student body, and the UNT Native American Student Association includes students from about 17 tribal nations.

UNT's NASA is hosting the celebration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday on the lawn by Sage Hall. Those who stop by can participate in traditional Southeastern stickball with the DFW Kabutcha Toli team, sample indigenous foods, and shop with native and indigenous vendors for art, jewelry and other handmade designs.

International Year of Indigenous Languages

This year also is the United Nations' International Year of Indigenous Languages, and many groups on campus, including UNT's NASA, have been involved in presenting events this fall.

According to the U.N.'s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 40 percent of the world's estimated 6,700 languages are in danger of disappearing.

“We hope to bring attention to the challenges that indigenous communities have faced and are facing through the impacts of globalization, modernization and the legacies of colonization,” says Christina Wasson, anthropology professor and lead organizer of the UNT event series. “It's not just languages that are in danger of being forgotten. The cultural heritage of groups of people all over the world may be lost if we don't make efforts to preserve them.”

UNT has scholars across disciplines working to document, preserve and revitalize languages so they will be accessible to later generations. In the College of Information, National Science Foundation-funded researchers are examining language through the lens of technology and big data, pairing experts from linguistics and archiving. In the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Wasson, an applied anthropologist, is working with communities to develop more navigable language archives through user-centered design.

Upcoming events in the Year of Indigenous Languages series include a Nahuatl language workshop, an indigenous storytelling event and screenings of indigenous films.