Renowned singer to share Navajo experiences

Of about 21,000 Ohio University students at the Athens branch, only 61 identify as American Indian, but many more share an appreciation for the Native American culture they carry.

In light of National Native American Heritage Month, the Multicultural Center and OU’s Native Peoples Awareness Coalition are honoring centuries-old traditions with singer and former pageant queen Radmilla Cody. She will perform at 7:30 p.m. today in Baker Theatre.

Last week, students learned how to craft drums with Wendell Humphrey and the coalition. Tonight, the festivities will continue with a speech and performance from one of NPR’s “50 greatest voices of 2010.”

Cody, who grew up herding sheep in the Navajo Nation, struggled against stereotypes for being half black in a homogenous society. She fulfilled her lifelong dream of winning Miss Navajo in 1997, becoming the first biracial winner in the pageant’s history.

“My grandmother used to tell me to embrace the beautiful world that I have and be proud of who I am. When people would make mean racial comments, she would say, ‘Let them talk,’ ” Cody said. “So when I decided to run for Miss Navajo and she was worried, I just said, ‘Let them talk.’ ”

In the midst of the ridicule that often surrounded her, she took time each morning to sing to the sheep before letting them out. That’s what sparked her passion for music.

Today, Cody has four albums and a documentary called Hearing Radmilla, which premiered at the Pan African Film and Arts Festival in 2010. The film explores her experiences growing up in a Navajo community without electricity and running water, being in an abusive relationship and how she sang her way through hard times.

“It’s important to recognize Native American Heritage Month because of the past atrocities that happened to Native Americans in the U.S.,” said Jessica George, a junior studying anthropology and president of NPAC. “There are many human rights issues with Native populations, largely ignored or backed by the government, that people should be aware of.”

In addition to embracing her Native American roots, Cody will discuss domestic violence and racism at tonight’s event.

“It’s great that we can bring in someone with an ethnic mix because we’re so conditioned to look at someone’s physical appearance and fit them into a box,” said Winsome Chunnu, assistant director of OU’s Multicultural Center. “But we’re all here at this university to learn about these groups and the diversity of our nation.”

WHAT: Radmilla Cody
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today
WHERE: Baker Theatre
ADMISSION: Free

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