Celebrating Native American Heritage Month at Pitzer College

Join Pitzer College as we honor and encourage the study, observance, and celebration of Native American heritage. We will spotlight members of our community and share information and resources to learn more about Native American cultures, identities, and ongoing legacies. Features will be added throughout November.

Pitzer recognizes national history and heritage months as part of its celebration of the diversity of the College and global community. It is also committed to exploring issues related to history, culture, and identity year-round.
Check out other Heritage Months at Pitzer.

Community Spotlights

Alex Rodriguez has curly brown hair and wears a magenta collared shirt over a white A-shirt and a gold crucifix necklace. Behind him is a blurred backdrop of trees and desert plants.
Alexander “Alé” Rodriguez ’24

Alexander “Alé” Rodriguez ’24

Meet Alexander “Alé” Rodriguez ’24 (he/they), a sociology major, a 2022 Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, and a Native Indigenous Initiatives coordinator through Pitzer’s Community Engagement Center.

How do your culture and family background influence your work?

My family came to the U.S. for healthcare for my grandmother who had breast cancer. I have extended family in New York City starting in the ’60s. My specific family came in the ’90s. Seeing the diversity in my family’s religious practices, growing up hearing stories of los misterios del campo, recipes for remedios, and my family’s generational agricultural practices gave me an indication of indigeneity at an early age.

How did you get to where you are now? What challenges and victories have you experienced?

In high school, I focused on integrating New York City public schools with a youth-led group called Teens Take Charge. We met with the NYC Department of Education, politicians, and the mayor and went to community education council meetings to talk about racist admissions and testing policies in schools. Despite the city being diverse, NYC has one of the country’s most racially segregated school systems to this day. My own experiences in public education and the hurdles that my family had to go through to enroll me and my siblings impassioned me for social justice. And so the more I grew up and had to navigate the system for myself, my siblings, and family, the more I started to see day-to-day experiences as rooted in systematic injustice.

I was always considered a “good kid” in school, but familial and generational pressure came with that, of course. In high school, I had academic passions and organized to increase resources for my peers of color and for myself in order to see those passions take fruition.

In college, I’m navigating the achievement gap and what that means for someone in public school to shift into a different demographic. It’s been hard, but my being here allows for future students to come and reclaim space too. My research, how I participate in my classes, and the book I’m writing are things I’m viewing as ancestral work for future generations to recognize and lean on when they need guidance or reassurance—I hope!

Tell us about your book!

The book is both a culmination of and homage to my organizing experiences in New York City. The working title is On the Shoulders of Students: Reencounters Integrating New York City Public Schools. It’s a collection of interviews that my co-author and I did with activists who have been integrating schools, starting from the ’60s to now. We’re thinking of self-publishing to ensure our story is unaltered and authentic to all the beautiful people we’ve had the honor of interviewing. Some pretty amazing people are featured, so stay tuned!

What does this heritage month mean to you?

Remembrance, but remembrance that Indigenous people are and always have been thriving and present. When you’re remembering something, you place it in the past. I had a teacher who said to me, “When you remember something, you are remembering the last time you remembered it.”  This month should encourage people to confront what it means when you “remember” Indigenous people and what biases make you feel like you must remember something that has never been gone. At the same time, Indigenous Heritage Month should be a smoke signal for what change looks like. We acknowledge that Columbus Day is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but Columbus Day is still on calendars, and there are plenty of statues in NYC for example. People should interrogate those realities, knowing that history remains unaltered but the future is very much malleable.

How did you end up at Pitzer?

A college access program, Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, had an info session with Pitzer, but I thought it was on a different date. I was organizing at a building not too far away when a friend texted me that it was happening in ten minutes. I ran to that session! I loved the culture around organizing, and it seemed on brand for where I was in life and where I wanted to go. I also ended up speaking to a previous admission counselor by coincidence and well, I am here!

Jansikwe Medina-Teyac has shoulder-length curly brown hair and wears a long-sleeved V-neck black shirt and blue jeans. She puts her hands on her hips and stands in front of a backdrop of Pitzer’s native plants of cacti, trees, and succulents.
Jansikwe Medina-Tayac ’25

Jansikwe Medina-Tayac ’25

Meet Pitzer College sophomore Jansikwe Medina-Tayac ’25 (she/her), a media studies major and a Native Indigenous Initiatives coordinator through Pitzer’s Community Engagement Center.

How do your culture and family background influence your work? 

I am from Maryland, outside of DC. My tribe is Piscataway, which is based in Maryland. My mom is Native American, and my dad is Colombian. I grew up going to ceremony and being in community with tribal members. I learned how we’re interconnected and the importance of taking care of the planet. We believe that our ancestors are always here and looking after us.

My family is an activist family. My first protest was when I was a baby. In high school I started organizing around the time of Standing Rock. I wrote and shared a speech at a rally, which got a lot of attention online. I was part of This is Zero Hour, a youth of color-led climate organization.

In my high school’s communications program, I made a video about the missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis. Media and film are a powerful tool to make change. I saw how far it could reach. It inspired me to pursue media studies. 

How did you get to where you are now? What challenges and victories have you experienced?  

I’m here because of my family. They raised me to be connected to community and the planet. Having that support, I’ve been able to push myself in new ways.

I’ve faced challenges and feeling different. There are not many Native kids where I’m from or here. I was scared to tell people that I was Native American because I thought they would think I was weird. In elementary school, they brought in a Native American group for an assembly for Native American Heritage Month. They started dancing and singing, and all the kids laughed. I felt so bad about myself and where I came from.

My family is proud of who we are and push me to be too. In high school, I realized I’m glad I’m different. I’m proud of where I come from, and I want to make sure others feel the same. I feel isolated and different here as well. There are not many Native students. It’s been important for me to help create the Native Indigenous Student Union (NISU) because I want to create space where Native and Indigenous students feel safe.

What does this heritage month mean to you?  

I take it with a grain of salt. I appreciate that people are using it to bring awareness to Native and Indigenous issues. It’s important to celebrate our accomplishments and contributions and recognize the ways we’ve been oppressed. But this needs to be acknowledged all year.

Tell us about your work as a Native & Indigenous Initiatives coordinator. 

Tongva elders Julia Bogany and Barbara Drake recently passed away. This summer I archived their knowledge and work with Pitzer and the 5Cs. I catalogued their documents, videos, and photographs. It felt special to connect with them in that way.

Now, I’m working toward creating a safe space for Native and Indigenous students because this is a predominantly white institution. We had issues of non-Native students using our room. For us to claim space was important, so when other students disrespect it, it feels like our land is being taken away again. My position as a Native Initiatives coordinator allows me to talk to people in administration and uplift the voices of NISU members.

I’m also thinking of fun things for us to celebrate, reconnect, and create community. I’m doing projects and running meetings, but a lot of it is the everyday labor of being an Indigenous student.

How did you end up at Pitzer? 

I was looking for an environmental program, media studies, and an emphasis on social responsibility and social justice. My best friend at home visited Pitzer and said we must apply. It was a big step to go so far. My friend also got in and knowing she would be with me made me feel better. It was terrifying to leave home. I was supposed to be Class of 2024, but I took a year off because of Covid. I’m happy I’m here now.

Tongva Elder Barbara Drake
February 2, 1940–November 18, 2020

Barbara Drake was a beloved Tongva elder, grandmother, mother, mentor, teacher, and friend. Known to many students, faculty, and staff as “Auntie Barbara,” she was a central force in cultivating partnerships between the Claremont Colleges and the local Tongva community.

Auntie Barbara guided students on their intellectual, creative, and spiritual journeys. She demonstrated how to be indelibly tied to the land, and to the plant relatives that had given her and her people life. Leaving an offering of tobacco or sage, or a strand of her beautiful hair, was critical in the reciprocal relationship she had with the land: “Our breath is here,” she said. “It’s on this land.”

Born in West Los Angeles in 1940 to Tongva mother Dolores Lola Lassos and Anglo father Charles Milton Scott, Barbara Drake (née Barbara Ann Scott) was raised on her mother’s traditional plant-based medicines. Her upbringing built her love of native plants and her interest in ethnobotany. Barbara was an enrolled member of The Gabrieleño/Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians and served as tribal secretary for many years.

Barbara Drake worked in Indian Education Title VII for San Bernardino Schools, before coming to Pitzer College in 1993 to lecture on ethnoecology. In 1996, she began to participate in Pitzer’s Leadership in Environmental Education Program (LEEP), where she introduced children to Tongva perspectives on the environment. She was dedicated to helping children see the natural world as the center of all life, as cultural history, as storytelling, as tradition, as part of holistic community building.

She said: “Even a rock has a life. Do you know why? Because it changes. Everything has a life. Everything is interconnected with each other. It’s important to teach that to the children.”

Auntie Barbara considered her partnership with Pitzer and the land of the Robert Redford Conservancy and Bernard Field Station to be a key part of Tongva cultural revitalization. Of the seasonal ceremonial gatherings, she said: “Everybody needs this in their heart: sharing songs, stories, eating together, being able to be on the land. Everybody’s happiest on the land.”

Adapted from “Remembering Barbara Drake” by Gabrieleño/Tongva tribal elders, local Tongva community members, Pitzer College, and the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability.

Tongva Elder Julia Bogany
July 16, 1948–March 28, 2021

Julia Bogany was a member of the Tongva tribe, was on their Tribal Council, and was their cultural consultant. She worked for over thirty years for the American Indian community for her Tongva tribe.

Bogany taught Tongva language and cultural classes. She attended many language workshops around the country to learn, strengthen, and enhance her tribe’s language. She helped to revive the Tongva language, as well as assemble a Tongva dictionary. She was vice president of the Keepers of Indigenous Ways, a non-profit group of the Tongva. She taught basket weaving and used it to teach math to youth. She was president of Residential Motivators, her own non-profit consulting firm.

Bogany had years of training in Child Development, Indian Child Welfare (ICWA), and Native American Studies. She was a strong advocate for ICWA and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

Bogany served on Community Health Worker for Mental Health, California Indian Education Association, Children Court L.A. Round Table for ICWA, and she ran co-ed and women’s circles. She was president of Kuruvanga Springs, a representative for California tribes on Route 66, a member of California Native American College board, and Pitzer College elder in residence.

She taught native culture and history and women’s issues at Scripps College, Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, and the Claremont School of Theology in addition to Pitzer. She worked on theses with students and assisted with the Native Youth to College program.

In September 2010 she received the Heritage Award from the Aquarium of the Pacific at their sixth annual Native American festival, Moompetam. She was nominated for the Coastal Commission for the State of California and was a stake holder consultant of 200 parks in Los Angeles County.

Bogany consulted with and trained teachers and school boards on how to revise their curriculum to reflect the correct history of California and California tribes. She sought to change the future for her tribe, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. All the work she did was for their future and for the future of her Tongva tribe.

“I always say Tongva women never left their ancestral homeland, they just became invisible. ‘How do we make ourselves not invisible?’ is the question I ask every day.” – Julia Bogany

Adapted from “About Julia Bogany” on To Be Visible.

Zoom Backgrounds

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with one of our Zoom backgrounds.

To download: Click on the image to open a larger file, then download it to your computer.

Native American Heritage Month Events

Ndaani’ Gueela’ / En el Vientre de La Noche / In the Belly of the Night: A Trilingual Poetry Reading with Irma Pineda & her English translator, Wendy Call

November 30, 2022
4:15–5:30 p.m.

A trilingual ZOOM poetry reading featuring Binni záa (Zapotec) poet Irma Pineda and her translator Wendy Call, with live interpretation and captioning provided. This event is open to the public.

Webinar registration: https://pitzer.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-LzXSufJT6KSavSFrg9IJQ

Irma Pineda (Binnizá/Isthmus Zapotec) has published twelve books of self-translated bilingual (Spanish-Isthmus Zapotec) poetry. Naxiña’ Rului’ladxe’ – Rojo Deseo (Red Desire, Pluralia), won Mexico’s Caballo Verde 2018 best poetry book prize. She represents Latin American Indigenous peoples at the United Nations’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and lives in Juchitán, Oaxaca.

Wendy Call is author of the award-winning nonfiction book No Word for Welcome. She is co-editor of the craft anthology Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide and also the new, annual Best Literary Translations anthology. She translated (from Spanish and Isthmus Zapotec) In the Belly of Night and Other Poems, by Irma Pineda, as well as poetry collections forthcoming from publishers Deep Vellum and Milkweed.

Queering Mesoamerican Diasporas

November 30, 2022, at 5 p.m.
Gold Center Multipurpose Room, Pitzer College

Acts of Remembering offer a path to decolonization for Indigenous peoples forcibly dislocated from their culture, knowledge, and land.

Join us for an evening of queer decolonial and Indigenous-centered conversation with Dra. Zepeda as she discusses her latest book, Queering Mesoamerican Diasporas: Remembering Xicana Indigena Ancestries. Spoken word performance by nonbinary Afro-Caribbean artist Soon will open and close out the event. Light refreshments will be served.

Open to the 5C Community

FMI: [email protected] or [email protected]

Sponsored by the Intercollegiate Department of Chicana/o Latina/o Studies, Pitzer Community Engagement Center, Pitzer Teaching Learning Committee

Online Resources

Claremont Resources

Native Indigenous Student Union at Pitzer

Queer Resource Center’s Native American Resources

The Native American Collection at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College

Indigenous Partnerships With the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability

Barbara Drake Collection at The Claremont Colleges Library

Barbara Drake Exhibit Details
North Lobby Gallery, The Claremont Colleges Library
(800 N. Dartmouth Ave., Claremont, CA 91711)
Now – February 24, 2022

Email [email protected] to make an appointment to see the Barbara Drake Memorial Library at the Robert Redford Conservancy.

Additional Online Resources

Gabrieleno (Tongva) Band of Mission Indians

Claremont Heritage: Gabrielino/Tongva Native California Peoples

Native American Organizations in the City and County of Los Angeles

National Native American Heritage Month

Native Land Digital

National Museum of the American Indian

“The Characters Are the Light” by NPR’s Code Switch