25 Oct UND’s American Indian Culture Night continues tradition of civic engagement
Event culminates annual coat drive, continues tradition of cultural exchange
At the third annual American Indian Culture Night, accounting instructor Guiseppe Fonte was determined to support a tradition that former adjunct professor Mike Hendrickson had started.
Hendrickson’s name was top-of-mind throughout Tuesday evening at a gathering featuring fry bread tacos, guest speaker Cynthia Lindquist — president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College — and students from both UND and Cankdeska Cikana, located in Fort Totten, N.D., on the Spirit Lake Dakota reservation.
Close to the entrances of the UND American Indian Center sat a donation box for the eighth annual coat drive, which in past years has delivered thousands of winter-clothing articles to reservation communities around the region – primarily Spirit Lake.
Fonte, who’s been at UND’s Nistler College of Business & Public Administration for two years, said he got to know his office neighbor, Hendrickson, during the bustling weeks of October when accounting students gathered boxes upon boxes of winter-clothing donations.
“When I listened to him speak, it warmed my heart,” said Fonte of Hendrickson, who retired this past year. “I became aware of the coat drive and Culture Night through him and his philosophies, and it’s something that he clearly wanted to see continued.”
Fonte and accounting department chair Katherine Campbell stepped up to assume the mantle, though it’s really up to the students to create a successful drive and cultural event.
Doing their part
“The effort that the students have made has been phenomenal,” Fonte said. Though Hendrickson’s senior-level ethics course — which housed the group of students responsible for the coat drive and Hendrickson’s Truth & Reconciliation group — has scaled back to a one-unit course focused on the drive, it still draws the attention of accounting students.
In previous years, Truth & Reconciliation participants would connect with American Indian students on campus to develop relationships and collaborate on editorial articles addressing American Indian issues.
Taylor Mortimer, a senior from Warren, Minn., was one of the more than 20 students who recognized the donation drive for the tradition it has become for UND Accountancy and signed up for the course.
“It’s important to keep it going because of how much it helps,” Mortimer said. “It is heartbreaking to learn how much people need these items. It’s something we don’t even think about around here, and even as ‘broke college students,’ we can do our part to make the world and this region a better place.”
Understanding each other
Indeed, Lindquist said, the need in her community is dire. Benson County, where the Spirit Lake Dakota reservation is located, has double the U.S. poverty rate at nearly 30 percent. Unemployment ranges between 50 and 60 percent.
By gathering students responsible for the coat drive and students from her college, Lindquist wanted to create a lasting moment in their lifelong journey.
“The core of education is relationships, relationship-building and networking opportunities,” Lindquist told UND Today. “It’s about getting that terminal degree, but it’s also about learning how we live in this world and society.
“We need to get along,” she said. “To do that, we need to better understand each other.”
During her speech to the audience, she recognized Hendrickson for his initiative in bringing important societal issues to UND students’ attention. The idea of truth and reconciliation — learning and acknowledging the truth of past crimes and abuses, therefore allowing collective healing and equity — became his guiding principle, Lindquist said, and it shaped him as an educator.
“What is beautiful about this project is that it is cross-cultural learning,” Lindquist continued. “It’s a civic engagement project, but I also believe it is a way for you to open your minds and learn more about Native people and unlearn the stereotypes that permeate our lives today.”
Even at the highest levels of state governance, she said, misconceptions skew the broader conversations about issues such as addiction, poverty and crime on reservations. Education is the way to rectify such ills, and every moment is a learning opportunity.
For part of her presentation, Lindquist shared a handout that is also used at the state Capitol to show the economics of tribal colleges and American Indians in North Dakota. With five institutions spread across the state, tribal colleges’ economic contributions exceeded $192 million, according to 2016 figures. More than 1,700 students are educated each semester at tribal colleges, and more than 85 percent of graduates stay in North Dakota.
Helping with coats and culture
For Mortimer, that learning opportunity is what drew her into organizing the culture night, including coordinating with staff at Cankdeska Cikana to understand what would work best as a gathering. Back in her hometown of Warren, Minn., she set up a donation box and worked with her family to donate coats, hats, gloves and blankets.
Today marked the conclusion of the drive; Mortimer and other accounting students and faculty will collect and sort donated items before packaging and transporting them to Spirit Lake.
“I hope people get to know other cultures and think about why there seems to be a big divide, even though we’re all in North Dakota,” Mortimer said. “I want everyone to realize that even though the reservation is two hours away, we’re interconnected and helping each other.
“We’re helping with coats, but Dr. Lindquist and her students are helping our culture.”