Between Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, an unknown individual or individuals vandalized The University of Southern Mississippi’s Intertribal Society Medicine Wheel Garden on the Hattiesburg campus.
Senior sociology major Samuel Mingo said he received a text message about the vandalism.
“I got a text message telling me to let Dr. Greer know that someone wrote stuff in chalk on the concrete sidewalk,” Mingo said. “I asked what was written, and I was told just to let Dr. Greer know. I was worried, so I went to the garden myself and saw someone had drawn and written a bunch of drug-related things in the center of the garden.”
Mingo said he immediately went home to get cleaning supplies for the garden.
“A majority of the chalk just washed away, but I had to get on my hands and knees and scrub some of the parts that did not come up,” Mingo said. “It took about 10 minutes to clean.”
The garden, established in 2005, houses plants native to the southeast and that are still used by Native American tribes today. The USM Intertribal society maintains the garden and uses the space for meditation, education and crafts.
Associate Professor of Psychology and Medicine Wheel Garden Caretaker Tammy Greer said she was part of the initialization of the garden.
“Back in 2005, I was part of the team that wrote the grant for the garden,” Greer said. “I tend the garden, and, along with my students and along with the native students, we dig plants, we plant plants, we tend plants [and] we weed the garden. I’ve been doing that for the entire time the garden has been there.”
President of the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society Lanena John said the garden belongs to the society and is a place where members meditate.
“The Medicine Wheel Garden actually belongs to the club because it pays homage to the Native Americans, so Native Americans of the university go there if they want to meditate or if they just want to [educate] themselves about who they are and where they come from,” John said. “Anybody can use it. It is open to the public.”
John said she feels disrespected by the vandalism that took place in the garden.
“The medicine wheel garden, like I said, helps [students] find inner peace where meditation or something particular to that,” John said. “But it’s also sacred because it was blessed by one one of our elders, a medicine woman, and for her to come down and bless it and another person to come vandalize it, it’s disrespecting her. Not only her, but everybody else whom this medicine wheel garden touched.”
Treasurer of the Golden Eagles Intertribal Society Nicklaus Shumake said he could not rationalize why someone would vandalize the Medicine Wheel Garden.
“The garden means a lot,” Shumake said. “[The garden is] not just a place where we educate people but a place for prayer, a place for harmony – to get away from school for a while. A place I can call my meditation place, I guess you could say.”
John said she feels discouraged by the vandal’s actions.
“For this to happen, especially on a campus, it just shows that students are not fully aware or educated enough about Native Americans – or other, cultures at that – and how important and respectful their culture are to them,” John said.
Mingo said the garden is a spiritual place and that people misunderstand Native American culture.
“I kept thinking, people wouldn’t do this in front of the chapel or the BSU,” Mingo said. “I wondered if it was drug-related because people have this idea that Native Americans smoke marijuana in our peace pipes. We do not do that.”
Mingo said people live in a global community in today’s world and that USM represents several cultures across the world.
“You cannot get along in today’s world being xenophobic or blatantly blinded with ethnocentrism,” Mingo said. “On our campus alone, we have cultures from all over the world represented. Each of those cultures bring something unique and valuable to the USM community.”
Greer said the garden had been vandalized before.
“Well, I think that with a lot of things about native people culture, people don’t understand the significance or the importance of being respectful,” Greer said. “I feel like the [vandals] didn’t mean harm, but they didn’t also think about what that garden represents. There are ways to use everything in a respectful way, and there is a way to disrespect everything as well.”
Greer said she would like for the vandals to come out and see what the garden is about.
“The people who maybe have a bad start with something end up being the best defenders of that same thing once they understand what the fuss is about,” Greer said. “And so I guess it’s appropriate for us to make a fuss, and maybe they will want to understand what [the garden is] about, and the best way to do that is to ask people.”