Native American flags in bookstore hang for only a month

flags
Alexander Peet | The Daily Wildcat The International Flag Display hangs in the backdrop of the U of A Bookstore on January 25, 2018. The showcase of flags is the largest in the state of Arizona and serves as a symbol of the diverse student body.

The UA Bookstore has been displaying international flags, which represent the various countries that students have derived from.

However, it was not until approximately six years ago that the UA Bookstore began including flags to represent the nations of Native American students.

Jon Rios, a 2008 UA grad, is the president of the American Indian Alumni Club. Rios became involved with the Alumni Club the same year he graduated.

Rios said it’s important for tribal nations to be represented along with the other international countries. 

“When I visited the UA campus after transferring from Pima in 2006, they gave us a tour of the bookstore and they said that each of these flags represents a nation that the students come from, and right off the bat I didn’t see tribal flags,” Rios said. 

The significance of the Native American nations being represented on the UA Campus transcends the presentation of flags in the bookstore. Rios said that the UA was actually built on historic Tohono O’odham land. However, this information is not often disclosed to the UA community.

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Native American tribes often are identified as autonomous nations. This means that independent tribal governments, not the United States Federal Government, regulate them.

Rios said that, to him, “the flags represent the sovereignty of the tribal governments from the United States government.” 

During his time as a student at the UA, Rios felt his culture was under-represented due to the absence of tribal flags on display. Rios said the current flag display will encourage present and future students to feel more included and recognized at the university.

Nicholas Wilson is an advisory member of the Alumni Club and has been a member since 2010. Wilson became a member primarily because he wanted to improve the experience of Native American students on the UA campus. 

The tribal governments are separate institutions from that of the United States’ government, just like the governments of other international countries. Wilson said the relationship between tribal governments have a distinct connection with the U.S. government that other countries do not.

“It’s representing the diversity of the actual institution. Why aren’t our flags there as well?” Wilson said.

Wilson explained that, although the tribal flags are hung every year, it is not a seamless process. The American Indian Alumni Club has to repeat the process annually in order for the tribes to be displayed in the bookstore. 

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Last year, the bookstore displayed 18 tribal flags, even though there are students from over 120 different tribes. Each of the flags that were represented were submitted by students or board members. 

“Our goal is always to try to get a flag from every tribal nation that is represented by the student population,” Wilson said. 

He hopes the UA will recognize the efforts being made by the American Indian Alumni Association and in the future will put permanent flags in place to represent every tribe that Native American UA students are a part of. 

There is another presentation of Native American culture in addition to the flag display. 

“The Emergence Staircase, which connects the two floors of the Bookstore, also celebrates the role that Native American cultures have played in the history of the UA and their legacy of learning and knowledge,” Veronica Cruz-Mercado, the program coordinator for UA bookstores, said. “It serves as a constant reminder of who we are as an organization and a university. We are honored to have so many young and talented scholars from diverse cultures and backgrounds attend our institution.”

The American Indian Alumni Club provides different resources to Native American students in order to promote academic, cultural and social success, such as professional and academic workshops.

The program is also designed to help incoming students better assimilate to university life. 

“In a way, it’s building a community within a community because at the end of it they all know each other, they’re all friends and they all support each other,” Rios said.

The flags are currently not hanging and only hang in the month of November as part of Native American Heritage month.

The UA Bookstore is located at 1209 E. University Blvd.


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