NATP fosters community, advocates for Native American issues on campus

Group photo of NATP residents
Phenocia Bauerle/Courtesy

The six residence halls that make up Unit 1 are a familiar sight, but what students seem less familiar with is the Native American Theme Program, or NATP, that calls Unit 1 Slottman its home.

“(NATP) has been, from my understanding, as small as two people and as large as … 12. It is the youngest (theme) program,” explained director of UC Berkeley’s Native American Student Development office Phenocia Bauerle. “It’s taken a little bit of time to grow, but also, the Native population is one of the smallest ethnic populations on campus.”

According to an email from Bauerle, the program is housed on the fourth floor of Unit 1 Slottman and currently consists of nine students.

According to the website of UC Berkeley’s Division of Equity & Inclusion, one percent of undergraduate students identify as Native American/Alaska Native.

Campus freshman and current NATP resident Louwana Montelongo, who grew up on a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, talked about the program’s small size.

“All the theme programs have a floor. We unfortunately didn’t have enough Natives to fill up the whole floor, so … the last four rooms are (where) the Native students (live),” Montelongo said.

As far as theme programs go, UC Berkeley offers several. According to the campus’s housing website, interested students fill out a housing application that gives them the option to write a short essay if they want to participate in a theme program. Examples include Unity House in Unit 3 Spens-Black, the Asian Pacific American theme program in Unit 2 Cunningham and, of course, NATP.

“The main prerequisites are wanting to learn about and advocate for Native American issues.”

Like all theme program participants, those who live in NATP must participate in a weekly graded seminar, as well as several community events. According to the NATP website, students do not necessarily have to identify as Native, Native American or indigenous to be accepted into the theme program. The main prerequisites are wanting to learn about and advocate for Native American issues.

“The seminar almost exclusively (focuses on) indigenous scholars and writers… We really start with laying out a history that is not taught in schools, laying out Native history and indigenous history,” Bauerle said. “For some people, they’re learning things for the first time. For others, they’re like, ‘Oh, me and my parents, we talked about this as I was growing up.’”

For Rebeca Mendoza, a campus junior transfer and current NATP resident who identifies as Mazatec, the former is her reality.

“I didn’t know about (Native history) in California or other states where there are a lot of native people. Being part of this program … I learned a lot,” Mendoza said.

NATP especially seeks to educate participants on local Native history. Bauerle said that for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the NATP residents will be making an excursion to Alcatraz Island for the Sunrise Gathering to commemorate the 1969 occupation of the island by Native American people. This is a mandatory field trip each year, as it is a significant event that doesn’t get enough exposure.

More than anything, NATP seeks to make its participants aware of what a Native American identity means. According to Bauerle, NATP is a “safe space” for residents to explore and recognize their backgrounds and histories.

For students like Mendoza, who is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, NATP has also been a valuable resource for her in light of DACA’s repeal.

“I know that it’s not only me (dealing with this). There are a lot (of other students),” Mendoza said. “For me to say that I am an indigenous person, that I am a DACA student, is (something to be proud of).”

Beyond building a strong and valuable community within the walls of Unit 1 Slottman, NATP participants are also advocating for Native American issues pertaining to UC Berkeley as a whole.

“We felt that this is something we could easily be targeted for … for us to speak out is kind of nerve-wracking, just because we’re such a small group here on campus.”

— Louwana Montelongo

Montelongo talked about the “This Is Indian Territory” campaign that Native American students on campus have started. The goal of the campaign is to make the student body aware that UC Berkeley is built on “the indigenous land of the Ohlone People.”

“We felt that this is something we could easily be targeted for … for us to speak out is kind of nerve-wracking, just because we’re such a small group here on campus,” Montelongo said.

This is Indian Territory sticker

UC Berkeley has also been viewed critically for not repatriating the human remains of an estimated 12,000 Native American people. According to Bauerle, this is one of the largest collections of indigenous remains in the nation, second only to the Smithsonian Institution.

“We are at a place where there are some things that really need to be addressed,” Bauerle said. “(UC) Berkeley has sort of a black eye with indigenous communities (because of the collection) … Why do we need such a large collection of bones, of literal human remains?”

There are also other collections, such as wax recordings of indigenous languages that campus researchers have worked to digitize.

“That’s a really positive thing. … (But) with a lot of the collections, they hold on to them: Tribes don’t know what’s here,” Bauerle said.

This leads us to a broader question: What can UC Berkeley students do to support Native American people and spaces?

“We are at a place where there are some things that really need to be addressed.”

— Phenocia Bauerle

“It’s all just understanding and acknowledging that things (have) happened to us and are still continuing to happen to us today,” Montelongo explained. “One thing that we covered in our seminar, literally just yesterday, was about people coming up (to us) and saying, ‘Well, I didn’t have a part in what happened in the past, like genocide or colonialism …’ A lot of people just tell us to get over it. But we don’t want you to feel guilty or anything about what happened — we just want you to acknowledge that these things have happened to us.”

Contact Alex Jiménez at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alexluceli.

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