Eastern Oregon University > Mountaineer Magazine > Alumni Stories > Creating community

Creating community

Participants in a moccasin workshop show off their style. The Native American Program hosted a series of activities like this to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November 2019.

The Native American Program at EOU is the reason Katie Harris-Murphy, ’16, stuck around to complete her chemistry degree.

Four years later, she’s the reason Jordan Patt hasn’t given up.

Now the Director of the Native American Program on campus, Murphy said getting involved in clubs like Speel-Ya kept her engaged with her education. Students in the club now look to Murphy for the same kind of mentorship and encouragement.

Patt, who was president of Speel-Ya in 2019-20, said a constant cycle of activities, fundraisers and events keep club members busy year-round. Speel-Ya is the oldest Native American student club in the West, and its legacy is a testament to the longstanding partnership between EOU and nearby tribes.

The club’s largest annual event, the spring Pow Wow and Indian Arts Festival, would have seen its 50th anniversary in May. The event was canceled as part of state and university efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“People come from Montana, Washington and Idaho for the pow wow,” Patt said.

A junior studying business, Patt grew up on the Warm Springs Reservation. In addition to her presidential duties, she also has two on-campus jobs.

Speel-Ya’s presence on campus has grown recently, with Native American Heritage Month programs, exhibitions in the Nightingale Gallery, and partnerships with other student clubs.

“We’re learning how to stand up and push ourselves out so others will see us,” Patt said. “There’s still assumptions that we don’t do a lot, even though the door of our office is covered in posters of our events.”

Posters for fry bread sales, craft nights, art exhibits, film showings, and activism to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) were designed by Joseph O’Brien, who is the student Native American Program Assistant and Indian Arts Coordinator for 2019-20, and a junior on a pre-nursing track.

Patt created an eye-catching poster for MMIW, which became a Facebook post that got 500,000 views and was shared 7,500 times.

“We have an EOU student whose mother went missing in the 1980s,” Murphy said. “Natives know about this issue, but the general public isn’t aware.”

O’Brien is a member of the Pit River Tribe, and is also heavily involved on campus. Murphy said co-curricular activities equip students for success in their lives and careers, while keeping them connected to an on-campus community.

“I always suggest that students get out of their comfort zones,” she said. “My students know how to show up and try new things, they’re not afraid to volunteer, and that’s important when you get a job.”

A member of Nez Perce, Cayuse, Umatilla and Karuk tribes, Murphy has helped students enroll in tribal membership. Her small office is frequented by students seeking an understanding ear.

One of the very first peers Patt shared an EOU classroom with had never met a Native American person before. O’Brien said his identity has been met with skepticism because his appearance is different from stereotyped images of Native Americans.

“I was fighting stereotypes on the daily [as a student], with people thinking my ethnicity didn’t exist,” Murphy said. “The Native American Program helps students find their community and subtly teaches others who we are and that we’re proud.”

Special recognition at the 50th annual Spring Pow Wow was planned to draw attention to the ongoing partnership between EOU and the region’s indigenous people. Murphy said many EOU alumni typically reunite at the event, and online students who study from their homes on nearby reservations often choose the occasion to visit campus. Club members now look toward spring 2021 to celebrate this auspicious anniversary.

“We’ve always been here,” Murphy said. “Pow Wow is a great way to exhibit the diversity on campus and to see something different.”