Oak Knoll Senior Alexandria Lopez ’24 Shares Her Native American Heritage
In a Lower School Assembly just before Thanksgiving break and in an Upper School Assembly just after our return, Alexandria Lopez ’24 shared her heritage and connection to the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory and Tribe. In celebration of National Native American/American Indian Heritage Month, she shared information about her tribe’s traditions, customs, and values, as well as information and statistics regarding the indigenous people who inhabited the lands around Oak Knoll School, dating back tens of thousands of years.
She opened her presentation with a Land Acknowledgement Statement, “used by Native Peoples and non-Natives to recognize Indigenous Peoples who are the original stewards of the lands on which we now live.” She shared information about the indigenous people who originally inhabited the Summit area and its surroundings before colonization. She included details about the various tribes, their customs, and current numbers. New Jersey is home to three federally recognized Native American tribes — the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape, the Ramapough Lenape, and the Powhatan Renape.
“My backstory is that my family is from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory of the First Nations,” Lopez explained at both assemblies. “My family still lives on the reservation today, and my grandma is 100 percent native. When I was in the Lower School, my favorite memory was when my grandmother came and presented about our traditions and her experiences to my fellow Lower School students.”
When she entered grade 9, Lopez spearheaded the Native American Interest Club at Oak Knoll.
“I wanted to spread awareness on the challenges that indigenous people face,” she explained. “In club meetings, we also discuss the educational resources available on reservations and celebrate the Native American cultures. I had the confidence to found the club with the strength of my greatest inspiration, my great-grandmother, Gigi. She taught me all the traditions of our tribe and shares more year after year. She made a big difference in her own community by being an active member of the Kateri Food Basket, a local food bank that the reservation depends on for necessities. Her kind heart is the reason I am standing here in front of you all today.”
Native American Heritage Month draws to a close at the end of November. Still, thanks to students like Lopez and others in our diverse community of learners and leaders, we will continue to honor the many cultures, religions, values, and customs that make up the greater Oak Knoll community.