The SAI Symposium: The Birth of a 100 Year Legacy Celebrated

November 28, 2011

October 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the formation and first national meeting of the Society of American Indians (SAI) on the OSU campus. To celebrate and understand the importance of this momentous occasion, a Symposium was held Columbus Day weekend.  Website Feature Intern Andrea Leigh Hilliard spoke to Professor Chadwick Allen, one of the Symposium organizers, about this historic event.

The SAI Symposium was attended by Ohio State University faculty, staff, and graduate students, as well as by, American Indian Studies scholars and graduate students from around the country. Friday October 7 was the official start of the Symposium and, according to Professor Allen, Director of Graduate Studies and Coordinator for the American Indian Studies Program, a host of distinguished speakers was present to kickstart the weekend.

Allen said that highlights from the evening “featured welcoming remarks from Glenna Wallace, Chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Carol Welsh from the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Valerie Lee, Executive Dean of Arts and Sciences, Joe Steinmetz, and OSU President E. Gordon Gee.” The official welcome was followed by “an amazing performance” from renowned American Indian Poet and musician, Joy Harjo, along with two members of her band.    

Symposium workshops that focused on specific individuals associated with the SAI and its creation were held on Friday and Saturday: Charles Eastman, Gertrud Bonnin, Henry Roe Cloud, and Laura Kellogg. Other workshops focused on a wide range of issues such as Indian citizenship, Indian boarding schools, and Indigenous languages. A workshop that focused on the Newark Earthworks, and the contemporary issues that arise from control over sacred sites, was attended by all guests. After the workshops, on Saturday evening, a final banquet was held which was followed by performances from symposium participants in an “open-mic” format.

A fitting end to the weekend began early Sunday morning. Busses loaded with symposium participants left Ohio State University’s campus and arrived at Newark Earthworks a short time later. They were able to tour the Octagon Earthworks and the Great Circle Earthwork, and museums as a way to round out their SAI symposium experience.

The SAI was the first national American Indian rights organization that was developed and run by American Indians themselves. The society was only in place 1911-1923, but the impact that the society made on the history of the twentieth century is seen through American Indian political, cultural, intellectual, and literary development. A century later this legacy was celebrated cross-culturally on The Ohio State University campus.


Report by Andrea Leigh Hilliard, AU11 Website Intern