Ndakinna Education Center

Over spring break, twelve University of Michigan students embarked on a journey to the Ndakinna Education Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. Ndakinna is a center dedicated to educating student groups on Native American culture, particularly that of the Abenaki and Algonquin people.

While at Ndakinna, we had the chance to hear from a number of speakers, including Joseph and Jesse Bruchac, members of the family who owns the center, as well as Kay, a local Mohawk woman. We also went on a few treks with Jim Bruchac, where he taught us wilderness skills including fire building and animal tracking. Here are a few things we learned along the way:

1. “Ndakinna” (pronounced in-DAH-ki-nah) means “our land” in the Abenaki language.

2.Many principles used by the Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution originate from Native American ideals, particularly from tribes belonging to the Iroquois Confederacy.

3. When building a fire, the paper-like bark from birch trees is your best friend. This is what we used to ensure that our sparks caught when Jim taught us how to build fires during one of our hikes.

4. Members of native communities in generations as recently as that of Joseph’s own father were forced into extreme cultural assimilation. Sterilization of native people was not uncommon.

 5. There is not a distinction between masculine and feminine words in Native American languages as there is in many Romance languages. Instead, words are categorized by animacy: there is a certain set of nouns, adjectives, and verbs for living things, and another set for inanimate objects.

6. Saratoga Springs is the home of several springs that were famous among Native Americans for having healing powers. People would travel from far and wide to drink the water from these springs, which now runs in fountains located downtown. 

7. Women hold respected roles in many Native American cultures. For example, among tribes in the Iroquois Confederacy, women are the only ones who can nominate, elect, and impeach tribe leaders. This was of particular interest to our group, since all twelve of us were girls

8. Many English words and names are borrowed from native languages. For example, ‘Michigan’ originated from the Algonquin word for ‘land that brings food.’

9. According to Mohawk myth, the Earth was formed on the back of a turtle by a girl named Sky Woman, the moon is our grandmother, and the Sun is our eldest brother.

10.When tracking animals, a good trick is to look for bark dust in the snow. If there is not a lot of tree debris in the tracks, then they are fresh.

This is just a taste of what we learned and experienced at Ndakinna. We took so much away from this trip, and we were lucky enough to be able to leave something behind as well. Each student group is given the chance to create a mural to commemorate their time at Ndakinna. Here’s ours

The mural represents aspects of the Mohawk creation story, including the Tree of Life and Brother Sun as well as an experience we shared involving Abenaki dance. We were so fortunate to hear so many stories from our site leaders, and now, in a sort of chainlike reaction, we have the opportunity to tell our stories as well. The Bruchacs taught us that in Abenaki tradition, storytellers would often say “Ho” when they finished their tale, and the audience would respond “Hey” to show they were listening.

So, I hope you have enjoyed the abridged version of our alternative spring break story; this is where I leave you: Ho…

By Logan Tidstrom

Halfway Hijabi: Hijabi Monologues

Hijabi Monologues is a spinoff of Vagina Monologues or Mental Health
Monologues, and consisted of hijabi women from various backgrounds and identities speaking about their experience in wearing the hijab, as well as the reason why they decided to wear the hijab.

Following the escalation of hate crimes towards hijabi, or Muslim-veiled, after the 2016 presidential elections, my roommate and I decided to create “Halfway Hijabi: Hijabi
Monologues”. Given the common misconceptions about the hijab being forced on us, as well as the association of Islam with terrorism/backwardness, this event was/is meant to be a space for hijabi women to freely share their narratives, as oppose to have others speak on, about, or for us. As a free event open to the general public, it is/was also meant to be a space where all people, regardless of background or views, could come and learn more about the hijab. We also served desserts afterwards in the room next door in order to facilitate post-performance discussion between the audience and the performers.

The event, held on February 16, 2018, was extremely successful, with the room reaching its capacity limit and over 1,800 people indicating interest on our Facebook page. We were invited to speak at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion events afterwards, as well as were featured in the 2017 commencement video. More importantly, it created a space where people of all different backgrounds and ways of life could come together and just enjoy each other’s presence in a comfortable/open-minded space. The speakers told us that this was one of the few times they felt wanted on this campus and we received much feedback through our Facebook group in which other’s asked if this event would continue to be held. This all couldn’t have been possible without the help from BLI and the financial aid given to us through BLI. Many grants don’t cover refreshments, which we felt was essential to facilitate post-performance discussion, or events that occur outside of a particular organization.

The flexibility given through BLI really helped assist in establishing this event. Through the constructive feedback and debriefs held, it has been decided that this event will be held again, and we are extremely excited to hear the feedback for this event/continue to progress it to be as inclusive of an event it can be.


By: Alyiah Al-Bonijim and Ayah Kutmah