August 18, 2019 | 81° F

Rutgers libraries hold discourse on Native American art culture

Photo by Steven Ozoria |

In collaboration with the Middlesex County Commission, Rutgers hosted a symposium on Native American art culture in Alexander library. The event focused on cultural awareness and gave insight into how to preserve Native American language and studies.

University libraries and members of the Middlesex County Office of Arts and History Commission discussed Native American art culture along with the group’s marginalization this past Tuesday at the Alexander Library.

The event was one in a series of cultural awareness programs sparked by the Middlesex County Commission. 

In conjunction with the University, the two set the stage for guest lecturer John Haworth, senior executive emeritus of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institution, to speak on behalf of the cultural and arts issues impacting Native Americans, according to their site.

Division Head for the Middlesex County Office of Arts and History, Isha Vyas, said upon meeting Haworth at San Fransisco’s Americans for the Arts Convention this past June that the two struck up a conversation, which led to Hayworth being asked to present for the Rutgers community, which he readily agreed to.

From there, Middlesex event organizers reached out to the University in hopes that they would host the event, Vyas said. With help from Ronald Becker, administrator for Special Collections and University Archives, and additional staff members, the two organizations were able to collaborate for the event. 

“Middlesex offers programming based around American history from people of all cultural backgrounds. We do grants, programs, educational programs. We’re all about arts, history and culture,” she said.

Informing members of the community of upcoming events requires the organization to utilize card mailings, email blasts, constant contacts and their mobile website with lists of all event programming, Vyas said. Promotion for this event is due in part to support from the University, helping spread the word to students.

Programs offered by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission are free of charge and accessible to everyone. The organization is always conscious of the community’s needs and makes sure to accommodate for people with disabilities, Vyas said.

“There's a lot of people who came from outside the Rutgers community that were very excited to have a program of this caliber,” she said. “Haworth brings such a wealth of experience to this topic which needs to be brought to the forefront so people can better educate themselves.” 

Vyas said Haworth reached out to him post conference earlier this June and asked to visit the University and encourage community programs between Rutgers and the Middlesex Commission.

“Anything that can prompt discussions about cultural nuance and contested issues through forums like this is pretty healthy,“ Haworth said. “It’s important to bring people together in a civic way that isn’t about arguing or debating and hiding but more 'let's talk honestly and openly about what’s going on.'”

Many attendees were students, faculty and staff but were not limited to members of the Rutgers community. Residents of New Brunswick and the surrounding area can voice their opinions, concerns and stories of their interpersonal experiences being Native American.

“I hope conversations like this can prod Rutgers and others in the community to offer more conversations and programs regarding native studies and language preservation,” he said.

Working in New York City exposed Haworth to the challenges faced by many graduate students looking to further their education in indigenous studies, he said. Students unable to take these courses opted to focus on a more traditional major during undergrad while searching for outside work and internships to complement their curriculum.

“I think we have to look at this dynamic region, it’s only a hop and a skip away from New Brunswick to Midtown and vice versa,” he said. “There’s a lot of New Jersey residents who take part in their institutions like the Newark Museum. I just think it’s become the hub for this.”

The faculty can help remedy the misrepresentation of these issues by considering what outside classroom experiences are available to students as well as the type of coursework they assign, Haworth said. The marginalization of these groups often goes unnoticed and while the staff has their own responsibilities it would be a step in the right direction.

“Rutgers is a pretty amazing university — New Brunswick has a commitment to culture and arts ...” he said.

Christian Zapata

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