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By Gus Bode

‘Naturally Native’ deals with on-going issues in today’s society

Factoid:For more information on Native American heritage, check out,,, and also explore NIU’s website as well as College of Dugage’s.

Steve Bighawk, the lead male Native American character in the movie “Naturally Native,” has a card that signifies a “federally recognized” relationship with the U.S. government, one of more than 550 cards issued in the U.S.


But his wife, Vickie Lewis Bighawk, the lead Native American female character, does not.

An on-going issue among Native Americans is having to prove their heritage to the government. Nichole Boyd, student coordinator for Native American Heritage Month, presented the film “Naturally Native” Tuesday in the Student Center Video Lounge and understands this issue on a personal level.

Boyd, being from three different tribes herself, is not able to prove her heritage, which is a similar situation that the three Lewis sisters, from the movie, have been put into. They were adopted out of the tribe when they were very young.

“You have to go back to the censuses in order to claim it, but if none of your ancestors are on that census, then you can’t be, what we call, a card-carrying-Indian. Basically, it’s a systematic number from the government so that you can get the ‘Indian Benefits,'” Boyd said. “But I know people who can prove it that refuse to get the card.”

She agrees with the decision made by those people.

“Why would I want to add or support a systematic number in genocide? There is no benefit that I need through the government that I can’t go back to my people and get,” she said.

She is openly accepted through her community in northern Illinois and in South Dakota.


“And they didn’t ask to see a card,” Boyd said. “I didn’t have to scan it like trying to get into the [Recreation Center] to prove who I am.”

The film was completed on Nov. 7, 1998, and its location includes the director’s residence, a garden center, and a reservation.

“It talks about her and her sisters’ journey of going back to the tribe when they were adopted out, unable to prove they’re Indian,” Boyd said.

Director Valerie Red-Horse and co-director Jennifer Wynne Farmer received $700,000 from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe to fund the entire movie. Native American producers, directors and actors helped to make the film a huge success.

The film “Naturally Native” was presented by Boyd and Carl Erwin, head of multicultural programs, along with the help of many others.

Boyd had support from Delta Xi Phi, the Multicultural Sorority, Cheryln Knight, Alisa McGee, Maurice Jackson and Erwin.

“Without their support, I could not have done any of this,” Boyd said.

Student Development coordinators and volunteers provided the audience with seating, food, drinks, informational pamphlets and purchasable merchandise.

“At this event, we are trying to kick back and relax,” Boyd said. “We’ve been bombarding people with culture and current issues that tend to draw heated discussions.”

With the exhaustive work the coordinators have put in to making this month the best yet, it’s a perfect way to end the month. The number of events presented this year was 38 percent more than last. This was the second to last event for the month; the last, “Finding Your Roots,” occurred Wednesday.

While Erwin had a few movies to choose from, Boyd reviewed each one and decided that “Naturally Native” would be the best choice.

“This is the most recent film I could get my hands on,” she said. “It has some comedy in it and some drama, but it still touches every issue.”

But what are the issues that have been discussed during the month? Casino gambling, the controversy of Native images used as sports mascots, the portrayal of Indians in the media, alcoholism, racism, the ability to prove geneology and women’s role in the tribes and society are just a few of the issues discussed at various panel discussions and in this movie.

If simply viewing the movie does not prove its worth, perhaps the amount of awards it has received will change a viewer’s mind. The film won four awards at the First Americans In The Arts, the Native American equivalent for the Academy Awards.

Jim O’Connor, a recent graduate at SIU in paralegal studies, has attended most all the events of the month.

“It interested me when I found out about it, so I decided to come,” he said.

O’Connor was impressed with the turnout.

“At the Black Indian discussion, they ran out of chairs. It seems like they’ve been getting a larger and larger crowd all the time,” he said.

Even though the turnout has been up to par for some, Boyd was a little disappointed. At The Bucks pow-wow, only 75 people out of an expected 200 to 300 attended.

Boyd’s concern lies with the students as SIU who claimed Native American heritage on their applications. Ninety-five claimed it this year, she said.

“I really wish they would have come forward because until we come forward as a people and share what part of culture we can share, we are not going to be able to share the correct history,” Boyd said.

Even though they are working with a very small budget, they received help from USG and were able to make this month better than last year’s.

But without the support, the funding still continues to lack.

“It’s like a double-edged sword,” Boyd said. “Because we don’t have the support, we don’t get that much money. But if we had more money, maybe we could pull in the support.”

Boyd would like to see more campus involvement during the year. Her ideal wish is for Native American classes to become a part of SIUC’s curriculum.

“I would like to see classes. We have a Native American art course, but it’s just not enough,” Boyd said. “I’m not saying I want a whole program next semester. Let’s start small. Let’s get one class, and I guarantee you that class would fill up.”

The program relies on the community’s involvement and word-of-mouth to make the month successful.

Carla Felton, a student at John A. Logan College, was invited by two friends who were involved.

“The movie was great,” she said. “I think the movie basically showed a family who have real issues, who own their own business, and have children that go to school.”

Even though this is Felton’s first and only event she’s participated in this month, she hopes to continue educating herself.

“I decided to come and become more familiar with the culture,” she said. “I think I will get some books and do my own personal research.”

At the month’s finale, the multicultural program will have to rely on the effort of the Native American community and students to make Native American history a priority.

“We are supposed to be a nation within a nation,” Boyd said. “This month is about breaking down stereotypes, and if they only give us a month to do it, then we only have a month to do it.”

Reporter Nicole Sherdan can be reached [email protected]