In celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Week, the Native American Cultural Programs (NACP) hosted a virtual talk from keynote speaker Dyami Thomas. Thomas is an enrolled member of the Klamath tribes in Southern Oregon and a descendant of the Leech Lake Anishinabe in Minnesota. He is a motivational speaker, actor and model. For the past six years, Thomas has been traveling throughout the U.S. and Canada giving speeches and workshops focused on suicide prevention, health and wellness, domestic violence, teen dating violence and self-motivation.
During his talk last night, Thomas told personal stories, spoke about current issues facing Indigenous peoples and provided insight into how we can work toward creating positive change in our own lives, as well as the lives of others. Although the talk covered a variety of topics, one theme tied the evening together: what can we do to strive for improvement?
“The amount of sacrifices, the amount of prayers and everything that has gone behind where you are today, you also have to give that in return,” said Thomas. “The next set of generations to come is on us.”
“The amount of sacrifices, the amount of prayers and everything that has gone behind where you are today, you also have to give that in return. The Next set of generations to come is on us.”
Thomas discussed issues such as the history of mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in the United States, the bullying of Indigenous youth and the alarmingly high rates of suicide among indigenous groups. He tied each of these problems back to the central theme of the talk by challenging the audience to consider what they can do to foster positive change.
“When you know something is wrong and something needs to be done and things need to start changing, what can I do, what can you do to start making those changes?” said Thomas. “Ten years from now, is it going to get worse, is it going to stay the same or is it going to get better? That’s up to you.”
When asked what non-Indigenous people can do to support Indigenous communities, Thomas replied, “There are so many ways to educate yourself about Indigenous people… If you really want to educate yourself on any native topic… go directly to those tribes and reach out… We have this technology where you can just shoot a message and someone’s going to respond, whether it’s a couple days or a week from now, that’s one way to directly educate yourself and also to share these things on your platform. Whether you have a big following, a small following or no following at all, as long as you have a neighbor and you can educate them, then you’re helping the people…”
During the presentation, Thomas shared stories about how he was bullied as a child for being one of the only boys in his school with long hair as well as the impact this had on his self-image. He noted how many other Indigenous people have had similar childhood experiences and spoke about the damaging effects of growing up thinking that you are different than those around you.
“I thought that what Dyami said about his experience in school growing up was impactful,” said Alex Taylor, a seventh-semester Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Human Rights double major. “I want to go on to be a middle school or high school social studies teacher after my undergrad and so I know that part of my role as a teacher will be to include Indigenous histories in my lessons and to counter the culture of assimilation in schools.”
“I want to go on to be a middle school or high school social studies teacher after my undergrad and so I know that part of my role as a teacher will be to include Indigenous histories in my lessons and to counter the culture of assimilation in schools.”
Dyami Thomas’ presentation educated UConn students about the problems facing modern indigenous groups. Although he went into some heavy topics, a message of positivity and improvement was present throughout. He left the audience with much to consider about how they can contribute toward the greater good.