My name is Sam, and I’m a non-traditional senior sociology major here at The University of Southern Mississippi. I’m also a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
At lunch time in between my classes on Monday, Oct. 24, I received a text message telling me to let Associate Professor of Psychology Tammy Greer know someone had written something in chalk in the Medicine Wheel garden and that it needed to be cleaned up right away.
I knew it had to be something important because Dr. Greer is the primary caretaker of the garden. I asked what was written, and I was told not to worry about it. I got worried and walked over to the garden myself to see that someone had written and drawn some really disrespectful things in chalk in its center.
It was all mostly drug-related things. “Smoke Weed,” a drawing of a marijuana leaf, a drawing of a mushroom and other things. I was upset on so many different levels. I messaged Dr. Greer and sent her a photo. I went home, since I live so close to campus, and grabbed my camera, a scrubber sponge and two large Camelbaks full of water.
When I got back to the garden, I took as many pictures as I could to document the vandalism. The garden is a sacred place to me and is part of my identity here at USM. Thoughts kept rushing through my head, such as, “Could this be racially motivated?”
I know there is this idea that Native Americans smoke marijuana in peace pipes or recreationally use drugs. While we do use peyote in some very specific prayer ceremonies, to my knowledge, we do not use marijuana.
I can’t be sure exactly why someone did that. Of all the places on the university campus, they picked that one.
After I took photographs, I got out the water and poured it on the concrete over the words and images. I got on my hands and knees and scrubbed the parts where the chalk would not easily wash away.
“This place is sacred, and people are so disrespectful of it,” I thought. I’ve pulled empty beer cans out of this garden, and all sorts of garbage I know people just tossed in here, but this was too much.
I got in touch with the other members of the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society, and we were all upset by what had happened. We the members of the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society prepared the following statement:
The Medicine Wheel Garden was built during the summer of 2005. The plants of the garden are native to the southeast and have been selected to represent plants that were and still are used by Native Americans for medicine, ceremonies, building tools and materials, dyes, teas, food and weapons.
The garden paths face the cardinal directions and represent, among other things, the four aspects of human beings (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual), the four tribes of the earth (Asian, Native American, African and Caucasian), the four sacred herbs (tobacco, sweet grass, cedar and sage) and is symbolic in many other ways as well.
The inscriptions in the garden are primarily Choctaw words for the colors of the garden, for the directions and for the plants. Students and faculty drew the ancient images from Southeastern American Indian stories and myths into the paths when the Physical Plant paved the paths for handicapped accessibility.
The Native American members of the Golden Eagles family are the caretakers of the garden. There are organized clean-up days when Southern Miss students gather to pull non-native grasses and other non-native plants out of the garden.
We have activities at the garden where fourth graders come to learn about native plants, games and crafts. The garden is a tourist stop and has been featured many times in the news. It’s even a Pokemon stop.
The Medicine Wheel Garden is 10 years old. It is an integral part of the Southern Miss Campus.
It was vandalized sometime between 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23 and 6 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 24. Someone drew chalk images of marijuana and mushrooms, wrote LSD and other drug-related words on the paths of the garden.
This saddens us because, for many people, our garden is a sacred space. The Southern Miss Medicine Wheel Garden has been blessed by the elders, tended by hundreds of Southern Miss students and is a meditation space for many in our community. It represents the essence of what it is to live in a diverse and also inclusive community where we share the very best of ourselves with one another.
Please share the best of yourselves with our garden.