The Mohegans used ginger root to aid digestion, onion to eliminate congestion. For other Native Americans, sweetgrass, sage, cedar and tobacco were tied to mind, body, emotions and spirit on a Medicine Wheel.
“It represents the cycle of life,” said Audrey DeGraw of the Medicine Wheel during a gathering of the Integrative Medicine Club last week. “It’s about how our health is not just physical.”
The presentation on indigenous medicines, which DeGraw did with fellow student Marcella Kloter, is one example of how she is bringing what she learned from a life-changing experience back to the campus community.
Last year, DeGraw presented research she conducted in the ACPHS SEA-PHAGES program at the annual conference of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). A descendant of members of the Onondaga Nation, the microbiology student wanted to connect with her self-identified tribe – scientists with Indigenous roots. DeGraw achieved what she hoped for, finding a network of people from around the country who shared her deepest interests.
Since that experience in October 2022, DeGraw, a junior, has brought important Indigenous customs to the campus, including ACPHS’ first Land Acknowledgement Ceremony; has created connections among Panthers of Indigenous heritage; and is working to develop critical mass to create an AISES chapter here.
Her goal since the conference, she said, is to bring positive, empowering change to Indigenous people on campus.
She spearheaded the Land Acknowledgement Ceremony held last month on the Saturday preceding Indigenous People’s Day. Land acknowledgements are formal statements that honor land originally inhabited by Indigenous peoples. In ACPHS’ ceremony, DeGraw and fellow student Jasmine Pyke acknowledged the Mohawk, Mohican and Schaghticoke tribes.
The event concluded with Pyke’s presentation of a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Thanksgiving Address, which honored various aspects of nature – water, plants, the Earth Mother and even medicine herbs, among many other things.
Jonathan Phipps, ACPHS’ associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, said he hoped the ceremony would be the first of many such acknowledgments.
“Every October, on Indigenous People’s Day, and every November, during Native American Heritage Month, we should put this at the forefront,” Phipps said.
This month, in honor of national Native American Heritage Month, DeGraw has organized a small display on the third floor of the library. Visitors can click on QR codes to learn about all manner of things related to the Indigenous experience, including a map of North American Indigenous territories, links to national museum exhibits, and information on Indigenous awareness and activism campaigns.
Through these efforts, DeGraw has acquainted herself better with other Indigenous students on campus. She knows of a handful now and is looking to connect them in more regular gatherings that might also include Indigenous students from neighboring colleges. Her hope is to then create an AISES chapter in Albany to expand all their horizons – and her own dreams of deeper connection.
“It would be a huge international network of Indigenous people we'd belong to,” DeGraw said.