Culture week honors indigenous heritage

As November is Native American Heritage Month, the Cross Cultural Center (CCC) is presenting Native American Culture Days (NACD) this week on campus to spread awareness.

NACD was actually established on the UC Davis campus in the 1970s during a time of social unrest as a way to celebrate Native American culture.
“Native American people wanted a voice on this campus and they established NACD along with the Native American Powwow to let people know that they are not historical — they are very much alive today, working to preserve cultures and carry on traditions and ceremonies,” said Melissa Johnson, the Native American staff program coordinator for the CCC.

Johnson is a member of the Euchee tribe from the Muskogee Nation in Oklahoma.

The theme for this year’s NACD is “Honoring the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas: Power in Unity and Strength in Diversity.” Johnson said they aim to include not only Native American culture, but other indigenous cultures as well.

“We celebrate the indigenous peoples of the Americas and also put on diverse programs to reach out and touch all the bases of all the tribes, not just a specific tribe,” said Charity Hall, undergraduate program coordinator of Native American Cultural Days. “My personal goal is to overcome the visibility issue. We are underrepresented here at UC Davis; we are less than one percent.”

Though Hall considers herself as part of many different ethnicities, she said that she identifies as a Native American, specifically with bloodlines tying her to the Blackfoot, Cherokee and Creek tribes.

Native American Culture Days kicked off its first event of the week on Monday with the Sunrise Ceremony, a prayer for the week that was given on the East Quad at six in the morning. While the turnout was small, Hall was pleased to see the participants.

“I thought no one would come because it’s 6:20 in the morning, but some people did show up,” Hall said.

The Native American prayer was meant to start the week of events off in good fortune, which will be followed by a sunset ceremony at the end of the week to bring the festivities to a close.
Yesterday, among other events, was a game of stickball, also on the East Quad, encouraging non-Native American students to join the celebration.

“It was interesting and fun. I didn’t expect it to be so physical,” said Howard Tong, a first-year computer science and engineering major.

Tong came to the event initially for extra credit for his Native American Studies class but said he got more out of it than a grade.

Stickball is a traditional Native American game that is usually played during a celebration and gathering of the community. Stickball is very similar to lacrosse, and the version played on the Quad involved players holding long wooden sticks with a small indentation at its tip to act as a hook for catching a leather band that has two balls attached to it, one on each side.

Players run across the field and toss the band to their teammates in order to score a goal by touching a single goal post that has been staked into the ground.

Another participant, third-year Native American studies major Justin Deaton, is one of the undergraduate co-coordinators for the Native American Powwow, which happens in April. Deaton is a part of the Southern Alabama Cherokee tribe. His passion for his culture is what influenced his decision on his major.

“I actually majored in Native American studies because over the past three years, I’ve read several articles and books that highlight the grave injustices, misfortunes and horrendous deeds committed to the Native American population and their culture,” Deaton said. “It has been a mission of assimilation, termination, removal and basically death of the Native American and their culture.”

He said he partakes in NACD due to his deep cultural connection and desire to educate others about this passion.

“I feel that if I can educate one person who doesn’t know about native history or the indigenous people of this land, if I can help someone understand one thing that has gone wrong in our history, then I’ve done my job,” Deaton said. “To make sure that one wrong has been righted by my deeds.”

A schedule of the rest of the week’s events can be found at the Cross Cultural Center or on the Cross Cultural Center website.

MARIA MARCELINA CRYSTAL VEGA can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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