Two women hope to revive a center dedicated to Indigenous culture in Lansing with an innovative pop-up event that will showcase a shared culture through food, fashion and speakers, among other topics.
Shannon Mejia and Ramona Henry call their Sept. 23 event “We Are Still Here Trading Post“ to emphasize the presence of Indigenous people in Lansing and a need for a home that will keep their histories alive.
Mejia is a citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. Henry is a citizen of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. They are vocal advocates for Lansing’s Indigenous people, who make up about 1% of the city’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau recognizes those who identify themselves as wholly or part “American Indian and Alaska Native.”
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The women said their fellow Indigenous residents would benefit from a center that could do such things as help children learn Anishinaabemowin, the language of the Anishinaabe — a group of culturally related Great Lakes tribes that includes Ojibwe/Chippewa, Odawa, Mississaugas, Nipissing, Algonquin and Potawatomi peoples.
Mejia visited such a center in Lansing as a child to hear from elders and learn about beadwork, ribbon skirts and other teachings. The center closed about two decades ago.
Powwows, educational resources and aid, entertainment and important community discussions took place at the center. Lansing native Keegan Jacko, a Wiikwemokoong First Nation musical artist, recalled going to powwows at the center.
“When we had the center here when I was a kid, I just remembered so many good memories, and that’s where I remember most of my teachings, learnings and stuff that stuck with me for life,” Mejia said.
Mejia and Henry’s free “We Are Still Here Trading Post”will start at 9 a.m. Sept. 23 at The Fledge community center, 1300 Eureka St. in Lansing. In coordination with the event’s goal, Mejia said vendors are restricted to tribal citizens and other Indigenous people.
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“If I have other vendors that do Native American things, I will let them come in. But right now I’m just going to try and keep it to the Native American vendors just so it’s focused on the cultural stuff,” she said.
Last fall, Mejia began serving a fusion of Odawa and Mexican flavors from her La India Mexicana Cocina food truck, which she considered one of the first stepping stones to opening a cultural center. While there is the Nokomis Cultural Center providing much of that education in nearby Okemos, some elders in Lansing face travel restrictions due to health, Mejia said.
“I want something to stop (detachment) because when you get detached, you get colonized and you forget who you are,” Mejia said. “I don’t want that to happen.”
To date, Mejia said she has at least 20 vendors signed up from various tribes and she hopes those attending will be reminded of previous powwows. Beader Aanzhenii Bigjohn will sell her items along with Sunnese Granados and barber Maheengunse Osawamick is expected to offer haircuts.
“We’re going to ask the Native community all here to make a poster board to represent their tribe,” Mejia said. “So when people come to this pop-up shop, there’ll be information on the table, and they can see how many different natives from different areas live here.”
Those who wish to become vendors can contact Mejia by phone at 517-619-8798 or email IzayahPerez@gmail.com.
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“We Are Still Here Trading Post”will start at 9 a.m. Sept. 23 at The Fledge, 1300 Eureka St. in Lansing. Vendors are restricted to tribal citizens and other Indigenous people, however, the free event is open to the public.