Forum sparks tension over name changes

By Gloria Carr

Tensions erupted at an open forum discussing the idea to change the names of the Pow Wow and Blackhawk Cafeteria this week.

Members of the group Native Americans Together Insuring National Sovereignty (NATIONS) have been pushing for the change because they feel the terms don’t reflect respect toward Native Americans.

“NATIONS has raised the question whether Pow Wow and Blackhawk are appropriate names to be used in the Holmes Student Center. We think it might be appropriate to use names not derogatory to Native Americans,” said James Gillihan, adviser of NATIONS.

But many students who attended the forum questioned the aim of changing the names.

“What’s the big deal? Is it going to change anything for Indians? I really can’t see the big deal,” said Bill Toomey, an NIU sophomore elementary education major.

Jennifer Meness, a member of NATIONS, said the pow wow represents a sacred spiritual experience for Native Americans and people need to be aware of the name’s significance.

NATIONS should try to educate people instead of changing the names, said Pat Sullivan, sophomore elementary education major. Sullivan suggests having a plaque at the entrances or educating students on the meaning of these terms.

“If you take the Pow Wow name away, we won’t know what it really is. Why not educate us?” said NIU sophomore Tu Nguyen.

NATIONS member Ramona Boyd said the Pow Wow has religious connotations. “We’d like to educate but you are closing the wall by saying it’s just a name,” she said.

The issue of a name change will be presented to a student center advisory board Monday by Judd Baker, director of the Holmes Student Center.

Baker said the forum was beneficial for hearing both sides of the issue. “This is the good way to do it. This is what it’s all about. I think this is great,” he said.

The advisory board will discuss the issue, but a final decision might not be made until later this semester. Baker said other factors to be considered are alternative names and the cost of advertising a new name.

Gillihan said NIU must respond to the concerns Native American students have. “I’m hopeful that NIU can show some leadership in eliminating prejudice,” Gillihan said.

“It’s been common practice to overlook Indian concerns and needs,” said Jim LeBlanc, an NIU student from the Bay Mills Indian Reservation in Michigan.

Meness said although Native Americans have been politically weak in the past, they are gaining strength. “Now is the time to address the issue. We are gaining strength, now is the time to make change,” Meness said.