From Vision to Impact: the Native American Student Association at Elon  

This year's Native American Heritage Month during November marks five years since the founding of the Native American Student Association on Elon’s campus. 

Five years ago, a group of Elon students with Native American heritage recognized the need for a space where they could connect with one another and educate their peers about their unique cultures. This vision led to the creation of the Native American Student Association (NASA).

Native American Student Association logoNASA was formally founded in the spring of 2018 by Arielle Watkins ’18, Bear Tosé ’18 and Xena Burwell ’18. That formal founding followed a vision created years before when the three students conceptualized NASA and laid the groundwork for the club during their first year at Elon. But they saw the full product of their work when the club was officially registered in 2018 during their senior year.

Paula Patch, a senior lecturer in English and the club’s faculty adviser, expressed pride in the club’s growth since its founding. “Over the past five years, this small group of students has kept the organization alive, and they have slowly built up the capacity to host events,” said Patch. “I am very proud of the work that the students have done in the past two years, in partnership with the CREDE especially, to host events and raise awareness of Native and Indigenous culture.”

Jorah Midgette ‘25 is currently president of NASA and said has found a community within the organization. Midgette has dedicated time to creating a safe community for Native American and Indigenous students on campus since she joined the organization during her sophomore year.

Members of NASA hosted a booth earlier this semester to raise awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women.

“Before coming to Elon, I hadn’t been very educated on my own Native heritage, so being able to explore my own background more while connecting with fellow Native American and Indigenous students has been great!” said Midgette. “As NASA, we want other members and students of the Elon community to know that we are here and that we are hopeful about increasing the conversation around Indigenous and Native American voices on Elon’s campus.”

Patch has been the faculty advisor for NASA since its inception. While the club has continued to grow, due to the very small number of Native-identifying students at Elon, it has been hard to keep the organization full over the years. According to Elon’s 2022-23 Fact Book, students who self-identify as American Indian make up 0.1 percent of Elon’s undergraduate population. Luckily, NASA has been able to partner with the Center for Race, Ethnicity, & Diversity Education (CREDE) to expand its influence throughout the campus and connect with a broader audience.

“Our vetting and continuation process for student organizations is dependent in part on membership numbers, leadership positions, and the availability of members to attend mandatory training,” said Patch. “As the adviser for this organization, I wanted to ensure that the organization could exist even if some of these conditions were not able to be met until Elon has more Native-identifying students.”

Midgette is a member of the Lumbee tribe and hopes to use her position as president to create a closer relationship with the Elon community, highlight the need for inclusivity on campus, and increase educational awareness for Native American- and Indigenous-identifying individuals. Another advocacy goal for NASA is to push for more Native and Indigenous content in the curriculum and more Native- and Indigenous-identifying faculty or staff to be hired.

While NASA’s primary focus is on holding a safe space on campus for Native-identifying students at Elon, the group has slowly built up the capacity to host events on Elon’s campus. NASA is currently looking into hosting a pow-wow or another community event on campus that would allow students to learn more about themselves and their own heritage. They are also hoping to work with Native student organizations at other universities, such as UNC-Greensboro and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Throughout Native American Heritage Month in November, there have been a variety of events that enable students to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their cultural heritage.

The CREDE has hosted a beading workshop with a local member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, and a virtual art showcase displaying Native American art pieces. NASA is co-hosted an event with the French Club for a film viewing and discussion of the movie, “Kuessipan” on Nov. 15.

With a focus on creating meaningful connections and educational opportunities, NASA continues to empower students to deepen their understanding of their cultural heritage throughout November and beyond.