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The media and entertainment industries have portrayed Native Americans as people who wear feathers, live in tepees and ride horses.

Stereotypes such as these are mislead and damage the image of Native Americans today.

In his lecture, “Native Me: The Story Through My Eyes,” Benjamin Hale spoke of his struggles growing up as an “urban Native American” and how society has treated his culture in the Women’s Center Thursday.

Hale, 52, of Riverside, is a descendant of the Navajo nation, and belongs to four different clans. Hale explained that growing up Native American was not easy as other children would tease him by making “whooping” sounds.

“One of the most damaging stereotypes (cowboys and Indians) came from the silver screen. Most of them were untrue,” Hale said.

Hale recounted the story of his father, who was literally pried from his grandparent’s arms to go to a Catholic board school as part of California’s compulsory education laws. The school confiscated anything pertaining to the Navajo and punished the children if they spoke in their native tongue. The children didn’t know about Thanksgiving or Christmas and tried to relate it to their knowledge of the Navajo.

Hale’s father, along with other Navajo children, did not see their families for eight to 10 years because they could not afford to travel home. Their parents could not visit since they only had wagons and horses.

“That was the beginning of Indian genocide, killing them for land,” Hale said.

During his lecture, Hale explained the symbols that were placed on the table. He referred to them as instruments because he continues to use them in his life. Some of the items included sage and tobacco, which Navajo people use for medicine.

Tobacco is especially important in the Navajo culture. Tobacco is used to find each other when they are lost, as it is a tool given from the creator. Hale never became a smoker because he knew that tobacco was sacred and how people abuse its power.

Other instruments included an eagle feather, horse hair, deer skin and drums. Hale explained that all parts of an animal are used. Hale finds it funny that people today are into the green movement since Native American culture has been recycling and re-using products for years.

Hale picked up the drums and started softly playing them, singing traditional Navajo song. Afterward, Hale talked about the importance of the elements: earth, water, fire and air.

“The earth is literally our mother,” Hale said. “She provides everything for us.”

Although Hale went to refrigeration trade school, he said he sometimes wishes he had studied to become a tribal lawyer.

“We’re actually the only ones who truly own land,” Hale said. “We’re still fighting today out in the courtrooms. There’s more fighting now than in the last 200 years. I think that’s great.”

Hale now works at the American Indian Healing Center in Whittier, which was set up for the Native Indian community, but serves all people.

Rosalina Camacho, coordinator for the Womens’ Cultural Research Center, explained the importance of spreading awareness of Native American culture.

“A lot of people don’t really recognize how many Native Americans are around us,” Camacho said. “There are 144 students on campus who identify as Native Americans.”

Michelle Bloemhof, 19, a sophomore pre-nursing major, said Hale made her look at her life as an American in a different way.

“Native Americans live their lives differently, it seems more natural and fulfilling,” Bloemhof said. “It makes me want to be Native American myself.”

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