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Targum spotlight: RU Indigenous Turtle Island Club works to creates space for Indigenous students

The RU Indigenous Turtle Island Club works to bring Indigenous students together to take part in events and activities on campus. – Photo by @rutgersu & @ru_indigenous / Instagram

The RU Indigenous Turtle Island Club is an on-campus student organization that seeks to create a space uniquely for Indigenous students.

Katie Lynch, president of the RU Indigenous Turtle Island Club and a School of Engineering senior, said the club's purpose is to raise awareness of Indigenous communities at the University and the surrounding areas.

She said that the lack of Indigenous representation on campus motivated her to amplify local Indigenous voices and to educate University members about the community.

Regarding the club's name, Lynch added that many tribes refer to North America prior to colonization as "Turtle Island."

Lynch, who arrived at Rutgers as a first-year in 2020, said the club at the time was negatively impacted by the pandemic and rendered nearly defunct. She said she was inspired to help revive it, but the University's small Indigenous population presented a challenge.

Lynch said RU Indigenous Turtle Island has been working closely with the Center for Latino Arts and Culture as a means of making the club more well-known.

Lynch said the club has hosted educational and cultural meetings like speaker events, ribbon skirt-making demonstrations and Indigenous movie nights.

During the Spring 2022 semester, she said the club had its first large powwow at Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus. She said much of the work behind this event involved outreach to Indigenous students and professors, including Jimmy Sweet, an assistant professor in the Department of American Studies.

"Back in 2020, I could have never imagined that (the powwow) would even be a reality for us," she said.

In the future, Lynch said she hopes the University implements a scholarship program specifically aimed at recruiting more Indigenous students, especially due to Rutgers' status as a land-grant university. She said that the University should consider its relationship with the Lenape people, whose land it is built on, and take concrete steps to foster this interaction.

"If I can come back as an alumni and see this huge, thriving Native community at Rutgers, that's what makes me happy," Lynch said.

She also said she would like to see a physical space for Indigenous students and for the club to hold regular meetings.

Lynch said this space would be especially valuable, as she noticed that she has censored her own expression of her Indigenous heritage in the past by not wearing traditional beaded jewelry or discussing her Indigenous background on campus.

Lynch also mentioned how the time between Indigenous Peoples' Day and Thanksgiving can be emotionally taxing for Indigenous people as cultural appropriation and conversations about Indigenous trauma and genocide are particularly prominent during this time of year.

"When people talk about very triggering topics, it's definitely really important to reflect on that history and let that inform us as we go into the future," Lynch said. "But we need to reflect more on the amazing culture that is Indigenous communities and how much joy comes from our ancestors and comes from that culture."

She notes that her experience reconnecting with her Indigenous heritage is unique to her and that she cannot speak for all Indigenous people, but she said finding others on the same journey of self-discovery is helpful to one's own.

"That's really the core of RU Indigenous — being a supportive entity for Native students to find community," Lynch said.

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