Spring marked the beginning of the calendar for many American Indian tribes. For agricultural people the year began with planting; hunters marked the beginning of the year when the animals mated.
And now, at college campuses across the state, spring is the season for Native American Awareness celebrations. It's also the season when students think about graduation and about going home."A lot of the young Native American people that I speak to who are going to college, a lot of them want to come back home to the reservation," says Donna Chavez Christensen.
Christensen serves as attorney general for the Navajo Nation. When she speaks next week at the University of Utah Native American Awareness Week she will recount her experiences as a minority woman in the legal profession.
And she will tell students that many of them will be able to find work on the reservation, as she has, but that some will find opportunities elsewhere.
"But those who do relate to and accept their cultural traditions, they will always be able to come home," she says. They will be able to visit, to take part in the rituals and ceremonies. "That is the beauty of the culture. It is still there for them and for their children and for their grandchildren."
In Cedar City, Southern Utah University sponsored lectures, an art exhibit, sweat lodge ceremonies and workshops this week. Saturday, April 6, sees a day of pow wow, drum contests and dancing that will last until midnight."The purpose of Native American Week is to promote native history and culture," says Keawe Gilman, counselor at the SUU Multi-cultural Center. "It is also for the benefit of the students, to bring in those who have succeeded to be an example to the kids."
Indian students sponsor the event, Gilman says. "It's their time, not only to lead the whole student body, but to show others what it's like to be a Native American."
Salt Lake County Assessor Art Monson credits the movie "Dancing With Wolves" as making, for practically the first time in film history, a very positive statement about what it's like to be Indian.
Monson is a member of the Koosharem tribe. "We were terminated as a tribe back in the 1950s, with hundreds of other tribes," he says. "We were able to restore tribal status by making ourselves one of five bands of the Southern Paiutes."
Monson grew up in Mount Pleasant, in "a very loving society, made up almost exclusively of my Danish ancestors."
However, his father, he says, was Indian - traded as a child to a man named Monson in exchange for a white horse. "They did a lot of that in those days."
While he didn't suffer discrimination growing up, Monson says, he saw other Indians who did.
He wishes now he'd known his Indian grandparents, known more of the other part of his heritage. He keeps in contact with his tribe. The elders help him name his horses, including Qea-Ontz (Grizzly Bear) - the horse Chase Peterson rode at U. football festivities during the mid-1980s.
At the U. next week, Monson says, "I'm going to speak to the students about self-image. About the differences between the two societies and about the fact that most of them are positive."
Larry EchoHawk, Idaho's attorney general, says, "Since it's been reported that I'm the first Native American in U.S. history to get elected to state office, I'm getting a lot more invitations to speak at colleges."
At the U. next week, EchoHawk will talk about the value of education. "Education can be used to bring about social change in many areas, and primarily in living on the reservation," he says.
EchoHawk says he is known as a person who works to improve tribal and state relations through negotiation and legislation, avoiding litigation. The best example of the work he's done in Idaho is in a recent agreement on water rights in the Snake River Basin, he says.
How do traditional values fit into students' education? "Those are values that need to be preserved," EchoHawk says. "But students also need to place a high priority on education. It's not a situation where you have to choose one or the other. It's a situation where, if they really want to preserve their traditional way of life, to preserve tribal self-government and Indian land base, they have to obtain the education to be defenders of those values and resources."