Slippery Rock University brought in this year’s Native American Celebration Day with cultural dancing, craft making, and a Town Hall Discussion on the misrepresentation of Native American culture. SRU professors Dr. Rachela Permenter, Frederick White, Pamela Soeder, and the Pittsburgh-based Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center joined to bring the event together in the Smith Student Center Ballroom. The celebration began on the morning of Tuesday, November 19th with Native American storytelling that began at 9:30 a.m. SRU invited local elementary and middle school students to this event and those students were invited to stay for the piece on Native American dance that began at 10:30.
Jingle Dress dancer, Tehya Wanner, 15, from West Middlesex High School, has been dancing since she was in third grade. Of Mohawk and Seneca descent, she says she appreciates the way dancing connects her to her heritage.
“The dress can be really heavy because it’s covered in metal cones, but it’s cool that I’m the only one in my family who dances in Jingle Dress,” she said.
Crafters were able to display and sell their wares throughout the day. The setup included various stands displaying traditional jewelry, dream catchers, and animal claws. Students were also welcome to participate in crafting corn husk dolls and dream catchers.
Freshman art and special education major Alyssa Pauletich, 19, said that the social aspect of Native American Celebration Day was what drew her to the event.
“I like how interactive these cultural events are,” Pauletich said, “I’m especially excited about making a dream catcher. It’s too often that cultural events don’t go out of their way to involve participants.”
The Town Hall Discussion took place during Common Hour. Up for discussion was the misrepresentation of Native Americans in modern American sport’s teams. The Washington Redskins have recently met resistance for the stereotyping that their mascot represents. Dr. Rachela Permenter displayed examples of racist mascots on the projector in the Ballroom.
“Native Americans are either portrayed as savage or as silly, like the mascot for the Cleveland Indians,” she said.
Permenter introduced the discussion. “My father was French and parts Cherokee, Ojibwe, and Lumbee Indian,” she said. “Not only do I teach Native American literature, but I also am a part of a 500-year struggle. Education is the key to reverse this negative portrait of the Native American people.”
Dr. White elaborated on the mascot issue by bringing the subject of the University of Illinois.
“The University of Illinois was threatened to not have their games broadcast as a result of keeping their original mascot. That changed their opinions really quickly,” he said.
Also up for the topic of discussion were problems within Native American communities.
“Narcotic and alcohol abuse is very high in Native American reservations,” White said during the presentation. “I think the main problem is that they are a people whose culture isn’t revered or appreciated in any way.”
Audience members were allowed to comment on issues they found prevalent in modern Native American culture.
Michael Timo, 20, Junior, safety management major, is a three-year veteran of Native American Celebration Day.
“I’ve come here every year since I was a freshman. My family has a heavy background in history, so I just like coming to events like these” he said. “It’s a good way to broaden your horizons.”
The day closed with assistant professors of dance, Melissa Teodoro and Nola Nolen-Holland, as well as Mike Simms, an active member of the Three Rivers Center, presenting on why Native Americans dance. The event closed with more displays of traditional song and dance.
“The dancing and storytelling are definitely my favorite events,” Timo said. “It just speaks for itself how diverse and interesting the culture is. I hope Slippery Rock keeps this tradition going.”