Long Tent opening ceremony kicks off a week-long series of immersive educational events

Ansley Peard, News Reporter

Photo by Jake Lee.

The Long Tent is the product of months of planning and preparation by a team of Whitman faculty, staff, students and members of local Indigenous American communities. Roger Amerman ’80 (Choctaw), one of the leaders behind the project, says he thought of the idea to erect a Long Tent on Ankeny field while speaking at a series of artist interviews for Sheehan Gallery’s “You Are Here” exhibit in December 2021. Both he and his younger brother, Marcus Amerman ‘81, were featured in the show for their elaborate bead art.

He first got the idea for the Long Tent when he was asked about the “The Whitman Legend ” mural that hangs in Maxey Hall during an interview. He describes the mural as sanctioned art of the conqueror, created with the intent to demonize Indigenous Americans and glorify colonialism. Through the Long Tent, he hopes to address this narrative created by white settlers.

“We need to put the icon of the true, authentic plateau culture right in the middle of this important meeting place of the Indian people,” Amerman said.

Lonnie Sammaripa is a member of the Yakima Indian community, and says the purpose of the Long Tent is to give a voice and audience to members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR). He wants to make his voice heard and hopes to help students acknowledge and understand the cultural value of the land of his ancestors. Sammaripa is an educator and former employee of a Head Start program on the Yakima Indian Reservation and said that he wanted to create an educational immersion experience for the students at Whitman.

“We wanted to make sure Whitman College has a purpose, a much more meaningful purpose. It’s nice that this campus can continue to educate at such a grand scale, but there is a lack of representation for Indigenous peoples, not just in students but in the studies [offered at Whitman],” Sammaripa said.

Amerman says the lack of Indigenous representation in the Whitman student population is no mere coincidence.

“There is something that is not quite friendly, it’s 170 years of history and it starts with the name of the college. There is a very desperate history here that is mythalized and it demonized the people that are talking in the front here today,” Amerman said.

The Long Tent Opening Ceremony was held on April 18 and featured several speakers, including elders from the CTUIR and neighboring tribes. President Kathy Murray also spoke, stating that Whitman is the first college to raise a Long Tent.

“A long tent is another way of deepening our understanding of what it means for us to live on this land. Today, the Long Tent on Ankeny highlights the incredible importance of ongoing education,” Murray said.

After an initial blessing, attendees were invited to join the First Foods Feast, featuring traditional Indigenous American cuisine. The meal was provided by the Whitman Bon Appétit catering services and included wild salmon, wild rice, roasted root vegetables, cherry cobbler and more. Shannon Null, general manager of Bon Appétit, says she worked together with Roger Amerman to create a menu that represented the traditional foods of the local Indigenous peoples.

Amerman says Indigenous Americans partake in a biocentric faith, meaning they honor and revere not only the environment they inhabit but the natural elements therein. Being the original occupants of the land, he says his ancestors asked the natural world for permission to live on and cultivate the land. Small cups containing water were distributed for the blessing before the feast for participants to drink. Amerman explains that the consumption of the water represents the land granting them permission to use its natural resources.

“All of the natural elements have spiritual elements, it’s not okay that you come here and just buy land, you must be accepted by the natural elements first,” Amerman said. “We rely on the land for food and shelter. Americans don’t get the full value of these traditional meals, which give thanks to the earth for the natural resources it provides us with.”

Chief Donald Sampson, the hereditary Chief of the Walúulapam (”Walla Walla people”) and executive director of the CTUIR, expressed his gratitude for the spirit of healing between his people and Whitman College. In his concluding statement, he referred to the treaty signed in 1855 by the Confederated Umatilla Tribes and the United States government.

“With that treaty language there was a promise made for education and health, in exchange for the lands that we seceded to the American government…” Chief Sampson said. “So, it is the responsibility of our education system to ensure that the propagation and upstanding protection of that treaty will remain and that both sides commit to its perseverance in time.”

The Treaty Rock sits at the entrance to the outdoor amphitheater to commemorate this historical event, just east of the site where the Long Tent was raised. Educational immersion events were held at the Long Tent for the remainder of the week. Amerman and Sammaripa hope that this event is just the first of many more to come, and they would also like to see the college integrate more Indigenous studies into its curriculum.