30th Peace Tree Ceremony Celebrates Native American Culture


Sept. 22 – MORGANTOWN – The 30th annual Peace Tree Ceremony was held outside West Virginia University and open to the public for the first time since 2019.

“We thank the Creator for being outside — not in the Gluck Theater or online — and enjoying the sun and nature,” said Native American Studies program coordinator Bonnie Brown.

The ceremony took place in front of the Peace Tree, which was planted in 1996 and across from the Mountainlair on the downtown campus of West Virginia University. In 2020, the ceremony was not public and only seven people attended. In 2021 it was held at the Gluck Theater in the Mountainlair and some attendees attended in person in masks and others on Zoom.

The ceremony is held as a way to celebrate culture and peace and bring the community together. The Native American Studies program was developed in the early 1990s in part as a way to support Native American students at WVU and bring distinguished Native American guests to campus, Brown said.

“The ceremony commemorates a 30-year long history. In 1992, when certain places in the United States were commemorating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, some WVU visionaries, as well as the administration, decided that it was the perfect time to refocus attention on the first peoples of this land – the first nations,” Brown said.

Nationally acclaimed contemporary artist Marie Watt was the guest speaker. She is a citizen of the Seneca Nation and, in conjunction with the Canada Creative Arts Center, she hosted a public showing of some of her collections titled “A Shared Horizon (Western Door)” and “Storywork: The Prints of Marie Watt.”

During the ceremony, she spoke about her tribe and their relationships – how humans are connected to nature and to each other, among other things.

“For me, peacemaking work is about mending relationships and telling stories. It’s about sharing a table together and setting a table where everyone’s voice is equal and heard,” Watt said. .

Other speakers included Bob Pirner, Professor of Native American Studies and winner of the 2021 Morgantown Human Rights Award, who spoke about land recognition; Danny Trejo, Morgantown Human Rights Commissioner, who delivered a four-way prayer; Meshea Poore, vice president of WVU’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division; Gregory Dunaway, dean of Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and Ellesa High, former director of the WVU Native American Studies program. WV State Human Rights Commissioner Tim Hairston was the baton bearer and Seneca Nation traditional singer John Block performed two songs.

Dunaway spoke about how peace can be practiced.

“This Peace Tree Ceremony comes at a much-needed time, as society continues to experience deep divisions in trust, respect and civility. And sadly, this often manifests in acts of hatred and violence. So we come together again with need and urgency to express our desire for peace rather than conflict. It is right that we honor the wisdom of our Native American ancestors, who well understood that we are all bound by a common humanity. And now is the most appropriate time for us to come together and reflect on the virtue of peace,” Dunaway said.

High focused on the strength of the Peace Tree itself.

“I’m just struck by the power of this tree. It’s so full of life. I think it’s important to remember that here at WVU, this tree was planted in the heart of campus,” High said.

The ceremony ended by inviting participants to tie a ribbon on the Peace Tree and were given tobacco to sprinkle at the bottom, for good luck. As guests took part in the ceremony, Block performed a closing song.

On Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Paw Paw Festival at the Core Arboretum, Native American Joe Candillo will present a talk on Native American ecology, as 60% of the world’s food comes from cultures native to Native American America, Brown said.

For more information on the Native American Studies program at WVU, visit their website.

Contact me at [email protected] or 304-367-2549.

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