Members of the Oneida Indian Nation of New York joined the Hamilton community on January 27 to bring awareness to the American Indian experience. The event, co-sponsored by the Shenandoah-Kirkland Initiative, the Chaplaincy, and Religious Studies Department through the Dean of Faculty, served as an interactive indigenous history lesson.
Neal Powless, member of the Eel Clan of the Onondaga Nation, and his wife Michelle D. Schenandoah, member of the Wolf Clan of the Oneidas, led the KAIROS Blanket Exercise™ program, which gives an extensive history of more than 500 years of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of North America.
“Youth throughout the United States aren’t taught the whole story,” says Powless. “It’s important that people are educated on the history of the indigenous people of this land.”
The KAIROS Blanket Exercise™ was created in 1997 in collaboration with Indigenous Elders and educators. The program was originally geared toward teaching Canadian-Indigenous history, but over the years has been altered to be used in places around the world including Australia, Guatemala, and the United States. This particular alteration focused in particular on the American northeast where Hamilton is located.
During the exercise, attendees walked on blankets that represented North American land. Narrators, including Powless and Schenandoah, read scrolls and walked participants through significant events and aspects of the Indigenous experience, including treaty-making, colonization, and reservation life.
“It’s sad that a lot of people here don’t know a lot about Haudenosaunee culture and the Oneida people,” says Schenandoah. “You should think about the sacred indigenous connection this land has as you walk throughout the Hamilton campus.”
The program concluded when participants gathered around in a talking circle to discuss how the workshop made them feel and what they planned on doing with their newfound knowledge going forward.
“It was honestly one of the most powerful things I’ve ever experienced” said Eric Kopp ’22. “To actually see 500 years of genocide and suffering in front of your eyes really changes the way you view your ancestors and American history.”