In the late 1960s, as the national Civil Rights Movement came to an end, a group of Oregon State University students were just beginning their own journey to justice. Native students and the Black Student Union banded together to advocate for, and eventually establish, the Native American Longhouse Eena Haws center, or the “Beaver House” in Chinuk Wawa. The NAL thus became the first college campus Native center in Oregon in 1971.
What began as a Quonset hut — a small, steel semicircular structure used in WWII — is now a beautiful, multi-use longhouse available for student enjoyment, support, and resources on the OSU campus. Like their predecessors, current NAL members are fighting for their rights, recently implementing a powerful exhibit about the staggering amount of physical and sexual violence against Native American women. As the first cultural center on campus, the NAL laid the foundations for students of various backgrounds to find support and inclusivity in the OSU community, and continue to display the importance and impact of activism.
The Longhouse includes spaces for tutoring, a kitchen, computers and a TV for student use, a lounge, study spaces, a Spiritual Room, a library of Native American informational books, gender-inclusive bathrooms, and a gender-inclusive shower open to anyone.
Charlie PeBenito, a fourth-year Speech Communication and Ethnic Studies student, explains the high value of these cultural centers: “It’s really important to have these spaces on campus because OSU is a predominantly white institution, and it’s very hard for students from marginalized communities to find a space here where they belong.” PeBenito is a Communications Representative for the NAL.
A fifth-year student who boasts three areas of study while acting as Student Leadership Liaison for the NAL, Ame Manon-Ferguson, adds: “With the Longhouse in particular, if it weren’t for this center, there’s no programming for support or resources for us on campus.”
The NAL creates a space for students where they can not only find a sense of belonging, but also thrive. Throughout the year, the Longhouse puts on many events that allow students and the community to engage with Native culture. Most recently, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the NAL focused on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movements, which aims to find justice for the thousands of indigenous women who are subjected to violence every year. Among the NAL’s MMIW events, a REDress exhibit caught the eyes of many passersby while building awareness around the issue.
Missing and Murdered
The display was inspired by The REDress Project, created by artist Jaime Black, who sought to raise awareness about missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. A plethora of red dresses hung in the trees next to the Longhouse, accompanied by signs that stated powerful statistics relating to violence against Indigenous women. The dresses represented the startling amount of missing and murdered Indigenous women lost to racialized violence. Members of the NAL worked hard to catch the attention of passing students and succeeded.
Alarming data presented on the signs included: “American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average,” along with other powerful statements such as, “Indigenous communities are not just vulnerable, they are targeted.”
The amount of missing and murdered Indigenous women is so high, that the number is constantly changing and unknown.
When asked what factors contribute to this issue, Manon-Ferguson states, “It’s a complex issue, and it has a lot of historical context. It’s not something that just started, it’s something that was built upon.
One of [the factors] is the dehumanization of Native people that has always happened. They’re seen as non-human, in the past, no longer relevant, no longer existing. They’re not connected to contemporary ideas. The gentrification of Native women … they’re fetishized and sexualized … I feel like Native women are seen as disposable.”
Manon-Ferguson adds that sex trafficking contributes to violence against these populations. Highways and mining projects in Canada are major hotspots for traffickers to kidnap and/or murder Indigenous women.
How to Help
When asked what we can do as a community to help combat this growing problem, PeBenito says, “I think one of the first steps is definitely raising awareness … You can’t fix a problem if you can’t prove that there’s a problem.”
Manon-Ferguson adds, “Something that can be done right now is supporting an MMIW bill that’s going through the Senate at the moment … The bill focuses on creating a study to look at the problem of MMIW in Oregon, and specifically building bridges across jurisdictions.”
The lack of media coverage across the U.S. – and even in Corvallis – for Indigenous victims of violence is one contributor to a lack of awareness. This lack of awareness creates little impetus to solve the problem. This is perhaps why thousands of Native girls and women remain missing years after disappearing.
Manon-Ferguson emphasizes, “If a white child went missing, or a white woman, it’s pretty prevalent on the news … But, I feel like with Native women, and with Black women too, it’s like, ‘that’s just something that happens to them’… It’s so normalized that it’s not alarming.”
The notion of Indigenous populations being disposable is a substantial factor in the violence used against them. The U.S. government was established via racialized violence, objectification, and general injustices imposed upon native inhabitants – their rich histories systematically stolen and besmirched. These injustices continue to this day; all the while institutions like the Native American Longhouse raise awareness and provide a home for those who might feel marginalized in a predominantly white community.
Issues for the Native community do not end with violence against indigenous women. The Indian Law Resource Center lists environmental protection, human rights, land rights, law reform, Native sovereignty and self-governance, and protecting sacred sites as current, pertinent problems. The non-profit organization, Cultural Survival, explicitly states on their website that the Trump administration has completely disrespected the Native population while in power. From using the racial slur “Pocahontas” to promoting voter suppression, Trump’s place in office has had a major negative impact on Indigenous people. Not only is the current administration ignorant and apathetic toward missing and murdered Native women, but it’s also blatantly stripping their rights away by cutting helpful federal programs, approving pipelines over Native land, removing land from trust, and encouraging hateful speech against them.
The pile of wrongdoings by our current administration are often so high that the issues of marginalized groups often get buried. This is true especially for Indigenous populations, who are often viewed as separate from U.S. society. The people of Corvallis must work not only to understand the grave issues at hand, but to cherish and protect the lives and histories of our Native neighbors. After centuries of being silenced, degraded, and exploited, it is imperative that we hear their voices, that we listen and learn from their stories, and come together to put an end to the violence.
On Friday, May 17, the public is welcome to enjoy the NAL’s 21st Annual Salmon Bake from 12 to 2:30 p.m., followed by a comedy show by the 1491’s at 7:30 p.m. Both events will be hosted at the Native American Longhouse.
Saturday, May 18, from 12 to 11 p.m., the NAL is proud to present the 43rd Annual Klatowa Eena Powwow, which will include an all-ages dance contest and drum contest at Gill Coliseum. There will be shirts and earrings available for purchase; all proceeds will go to MMIW U.S.A..
To keep up with NAL events, you can like their Facebook page, Native American Longhouse Eena Haws – Oregon State University, or visit them at 311 SW 26th St, Corvallis.
By Cara Nixon