Despite the liveliness inside the Fullerton Marriott Grand Ballroom Wednesday night, there was a solemn undertone to the Native American Heritage Month reception.
“We Are Still Here” was the theme of the event, and the hosts echoed that sentiment throughout the night.
“There’s a large population of this country that believes Native Americans don’t exist anymore,” said Raven Bennett-Burns, president of the Inter-Tribal Student Council (ITSC). “We are a community that has been here and is still here and will continue to be here.”
Although the ITSC has been a part of Cal State Fullerton since 1971, Bennett-Burns said this event was the first to highlight Native American students on campus.
The night began with a blessing and prayer given by Jacque Tahuka-Nunez, a master storyteller of the Acjachemen Nation, in the tribe’s native language.
Next was a short speech from Tonantzin Oseguera, the associate vice president of Student Affairs. University President Mildred García was slated to speak at the event, but Oseguera said she was unable to appear due to a scheduling conflict.
“I think this is one of the first steps in terms of supporting our student organization, the Inter-Tribal Council, as well as hosting events like this to recognize Native American history and celebrate it,” Oseguera said. “I also know we are making some great efforts in recruiting additional students from some of the reservations to come and attend as well as celebrate our current alumni.”
The reception also gave a cultural exhibition featuring Ben Hale and the Eagle Spirit Dancers. The dancers were draped head to toe in customary Native American clothing and accessories while showcasing their skills in a traditional dance.
Paul Apodaca, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology and American studies at Chapman University, was the keynote speaker. During his speech, Apodaca emphasized the importance of learning about Native American history and culture.
“Getting folks to have a sense of the importance of the study of American Indians as not simply an outreach to a minority group, but as a foundational aspect of our understanding of ourselves as Americans, that was my goal,” Apodaca said.
The ITSC also used the reception as an opportunity to bestow its first-ever Native American Alumni Recognition Award to Vicki Vasques, the owner, president and CEO of Tribal Tech. Her company provides technical assistance and training to federal, state, local, private and tribal entities.
“To know this is from the students themselves, it is more of an honor to me personally, especially coming from the Indian students,” Vasques said.