A chat with Digali’i president Aaliyah Swimmer

Recently, Digali’i, the Native American student organization on campus, elected a new president, Aaliyah Swimmer. Digali’i provides opportunities for learning and promoting Native American history and culture. The organization promotes the significance of Cherokee history, culture and contributions to the campus of Western Carolina University and the surrounding communities.

Senior Aaliyah Swimmer was encouraged to run for president of Digali’i by her coworkers at the WCU Cherokee center.

“The advisors for this organization are very involved and helpful. They are easy to approach. The former President, now Vice President Driver Blythe, assured me he would help me the best he could with this position because it is so new to me,” said Swimmer. “But I also saw this as an opportunity to put myself in a position to be a leader and work together to bring change and improvement for the group.”

One of the main objectives of Digali’i is to address and correct stereotypes about Native Americans. Correcting misrepresentation and misinformation that popular media has developed is a constant objective. Non-Native students are encouraged to attend panel discussions so that they can be informed and promote awareness.

Swimmer has many ideas and initiatives to put into action as she begins her new role as leader of the organization.

“Right now, we are discussing partnering with other departments to host a discussion on representation of tribal identities made by the public. We are also interested in studying how commercialism has affected the way people think of Native Americans and how many of the things people associate with certain tribes are false,” said Swimmer. “In the past we showed films about missing and murdered indigenous women and I would like to continue to promote awareness on that topic because it affects every indigenous tribe.”

Though Digali’i is a Native American Student organization, non-Native students are allowed, even encouraged, to attend meetings and help with events being held by the organization. The most recent organization to attend these meetings was the Anthropology club, with the intent of making connections between the two organizations and creating future events between the two.

Digali’i in Cherokee means, “We are All Friends.” Non-Native students can learn a lot about the Cherokee people from the different events and activities held.

“Western Carolina University is a school sitting on tribal land. Land that is sacred to the Eastern Band. The relationship between WCU and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is very essential to WCU in many ways,” said Swimmer. “Just looking at the history and the influences that the EBCI has on the campus is evident. The cooperation between WCU and the Eastern Band helps WCU thrive and helps the EBCI preserve history.

When asked what it means to Swimmer to be elected president, she stated, “To me it is a way I have gotten to connect with other Native students and connect with my indigenous identity in a way I never have before. Being biracial, I have always felt that I am being tugged in two different directions.

Swimmer did not grow up with the tribal community and did not go to school with many Native students until arriving at WCU. She was initially too intimidated to join Digali’i because of this, but upon joining she quickly realized being a part of the organization was like being with family.

Though holding events has been difficult for Digali’i during COVID-19, Swimmer noted that the organization is looking into holding a socially distanced craft night, with help from a painter from Cherokee as well as creating a panel of Native American speakers from several different tribes.

For more information on attending Digali’i meetings or volunteering for events, visit: www.facebook.com/WCUCherokeeStudies/