BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) – November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the diverse cultures, histories and traditions of the over 500 Indigenous communities in North America.
According to Jamie Folsom, an assistant professor of American Indian Studies at South Dakota State University, the month often comes with showing films, reading books, listening to prominent Native leaders speak and hopefully, gaining a better understanding of Indigenous people.
“This is a chance where we have a spotlight, we have more platforms for us in the media to correct stereotypes and to present who we are today and what issues we’re facing and celebrate the joyfulness of being Native,” Folsom said. “It gives us a chance to celebrate our cultures. It gives us a chance to present our issues in our own voices and to tell our own stories.”
Folsom is a member of the Native Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and this is her first year teaching at SDSU.
When Folsom talks about Native American Heritage Month with her students, she asks them to think critically about the content and representation of Native Americans they see in the media. She hopes people ask themselves who is telling the story and if the representation of Indigenous people they’re seeing is positive or stereotypical.
She talked about the recent Martin Scorsese film, “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which details how members of the Osage Nation were murdered by white men because rich oil deposits were discovered on their land.
“There’s a lot more actual Osage presence in the film than there is in the book and yet, it’s still a non-native person who’s directing it,” she said. “I’m not saying don’t go see it because it doesn’t have a native director, but I’m saying to ask a couple of important questions before you go and see if there are other authors who have told this story from an actual Osage point of view.”
Along with teaching introductory courses on American Indian Studies, Folsom is also collaborating with SDSU’s School of Communication to teach media literacy classes, specifically about how indigenous people are portrayed in the media.
“I just want people to have a really good base of the realities of history because by and large, none of us, including myself, have gotten the education that I think we deserve about Native American people,” she said.
Folsom is also hoping to start up a senior-level class focusing on contemporary Indigenous issues in the future. Learning about the struggles of Native Americans now, is just as important as understanding their history.
“We’ll just really be digging into areas of food sovereignty, the legacy and history with the boarding schools and innovation and entrepreneurs in the native community who are bringing new programs, new perspectives and new initiatives to address those issues,” Folsom said.
Before coming to SDSU, Folsom worked as an adjunct professor at Colorado State while defending her dissertation. Her thesis was on how female indigenous artists are using social media and their artwork to bring awareness to violence against Native Americans.
Along with indigenous studies, Folsom has taught science education, English language and intercultural communication. She was also a journalist for a number of years covering native issues and worked in the public health and environmental justice sector. Throughout all of her roles, Folsom has made sure to center Native American stories and voices.
“There is a joy in coming together to dance, to sing, to do beadwork, to even see ourselves on the big screen,” she said. “That’s a very joyful thing and we do that all year round.”