CSUF celebrates Native American and indigenous groups

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A vibrant celebration of indigenous history and traditions took place on Tuesday at Cal State Fullerton’s second annual Indigenous Heritage Month Reception called “Native Voices Rising: Defending Land and Life.”

The reception was co-hosted by interim President Fram Virjee and the Inter-Tribal Student Council to give indigenous students a voice on campus.

Of over 39,000 enrolled at Cal State Fullerton, only 0.1 percent of students identify as Native American, according to 2018 CSUF Facts and Figures.

The Inter-Tribal Student Council is the only student organization that represents Native Americans and indigenous students on campus, said Vincent Vigil, interim director for the Diversity Initiatives and Resource Center.

“We are hoping that we will educate the campus community about Native American culture, but also educate our students about indigenous people and better promote them,” Vigil said.

Raven Bennett-Burns, president of Inter-Tribal Student Council, said events like these give Native American and indigenous groups a voice, and serve as a reminder that indigenous students are present on campus.

Bennett-Burns said the difference between Native American and indigenous people is that Native American refers to North American tribes, while indigenous refers to people who are native to the lands they’re from.

At the reception, Virjee said there cannot be a true celebration of indigenous history month without recognizing and confronting the country’s “original sin,” or what he called the “physical, emotional and spiritual decimation of the native people.”

“We need to accept, understand and apologize for that mistreatment,” Virjee said. “As a minority-serving institution, coming to terms with that sin includes a heightened commitment.”

Eric Tippeconnic, CSUF associate professor for the department of history, said he became the first member of his tribe to earn a Ph.D.

Tippeconnic lived on multiple Native American reservations as a child before becoming a part of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma. The Comanche Nation aims to preserve cultural heritage while also defining, establishing and safeguarding the rights of its tribe members, Tippeconnic said.   

Redboy Productions, a family dance troupe that presents indigenous culture through dance and song, showcased its skilled dancers during the event, and shared a piece of culture with attendees.

Andrea Joia, CSUF senior, said she came to the event to learn more about Native American and indigenous culture.

It’s history that has been erased — it isn’t well-known,” Joia said. “It’s unfortunate for us because it’s the truth. They have a different truth compared to what we’ve been told and I think it’s very important for us to know that truth.”

The Inter-Tribal Council will be having an indigenous history festival on Nov. 14 in the humanities courtyard, Bennett-Burns said.

Brook Farien contributed to this article.

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