Through various captivating stories and traditional Native American performances, it became a night of learning and spreading culture at the Tabler Blackbox on Oct. 25 at the “Native Voices” event hosted by the sisters of the multicultural sorority ΕΣΦ.
This event was open to anyone who wanted to know more about Native American culture. Elizabeth Danon, the coordinator of this event and president of ΕΣΦ, was introduced to Native Culture in Pennsylvania as a teenager. She wanted to bring some of that culture into Stony Brook University somehow, and she felt it tied well into her sorority’s mission. “My sorority strives to unify the world through our differences and I feel like by bringing a part of my diversity into this sorority I am helping a very underrepresented people be heard, and I felt like my sorority is able to help those people be heard at Stony Brook campus,” Danon said.
Performances included traditional dancing and drumming with song. Two dances include the extravagant fancy shawl dance, where the performer mimics a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, and the eastern blanket dance, which is a courtship dance that symbolizes the blossoming of a woman. Audiences were also able to interact and learn a simple yet significant group circle dance with the natives. The dances and music were not just for entertainment; they also have great cultural meaning.
Spreading awareness about the Native Americans’ struggles and way of life was the main goal of “Native Voices.” The majority of Americans today only hear about Native Americans in history class, in which information about them is mainly presented in a textbook as a plain list of facts. But to actually see and hear from them firsthand is a totally different experience.
The major aspect of this occasion was storytelling. History books would simply describe past happenings objectively. But hearing anecdotes from the natives adds perspective. Emotions behind the story can be conveyed, which makes the stories much more meaningful and fascinating, and the audience is more able to empathize and understand the natives’ perseverance in spite of the problems they face. As Jim Riverwild of the Cherokee and Apache tribe said, “We are proud that we are still here even though a lot of cultures have tried to exterminate us. We are still here because of our beliefs in the creator and mother earth.”
Stories included how spirituality shaped beliefs, how Christianity interfered with native culture, how one’s visions helped understand his life purpose in being a teacher, and how one’s grandmother was taken away from her and how she is part of the lost generation but is still proud of where she came from.
Increasing this awareness was essential for the natives. As time progresses and society becomes more modernized, some traditions and events may be forgotten. But by conveying their stories, they can make a real effort in preserving their culture. As Riverwild said, “We as Native Americans want to keep our young to never forget about what we went through and also to turn around and keep our culture alive by explaining it.”
The average American may also think that all Native Americans are tan, in tribal uniform, and only practice traditional customs. But this stereotype has been disproved. “Many of us are not full blood, we are mixed with many other types of people,” said Cholena Smith, a Native American Stony Brook student of the Shinnecock tribe. For example, one of the drummers pointed out that he is part black, likes rap music and wears modern-day street clothes. As Danon said, “It does not matter if you are 5 percent or 100 percent, if you are native, you are native.”
There is a difference between what we think we know about Native Americans and what is actually true, and this is clarified by the native voices of this event. As Smith said, “Native Americans still exist today…We do struggle, living in a modern world and trying to hang onto our traditional ways of life, but we do our best and this is one of those ways of doing so.”