Grace Jordan, arts & living editor

Native American Heritage Month occurs every November and celebrates Native American culture while also informing those who might not know much about the history and the problems Native Americans face today. Student Diversity Initiatives (SDI) recently hosted a musical performance by David Trezak, a man of Native American heritage, and SDI Student Director of Marketing and Communications, Samantha Warner has insight on the month of Native American Heritage.

According to Data USA, Berry’s population is comprised of less than 1% of Indigenous people. But, this is the norm. According to Inside HigherEd, Indigenous people make up only 1% of undergraduate students in America. Warner said there are multiple reasons for this, including less resources. 

“There are a lot of problems with resources, especially on reservations,” Warner said. “Nutrition is a really big problem. Unemployment and lack of access to education are really big problems. There’s also a lack of funding to public schools on reservations, which creates problems with GPA and stuff like that.”

For Native American Heritage Month, the SDI office worked to highlight voices of Native Americans. On Nov. 4, David Trezak visited Berry to perform music from multiple different Indigenous groups.

“We partnered with David, who is Sioux,” Warner said. “His wife has Cherokee [heritage], so he does have a tie to the culture in that way. He has been able to learn traditional Cherokee music and cultural traditions from people in this area. He’s really knowledgeable about native instruments, native musical traditions and also about the history and culture behind them.”

SDI partnered with Trezak, who performs with his wife yearly at the Rome Running Water Powwow, because of his ties with the Rome community and his vast knowledge on Native American culture. The event featuring Trezak contained musical performances with drums and flutes. Between the songs, he would share the culture and history of Native Americans with the audience and would also introduce each song by telling how the piece originated and the history behind it.

“[Trezak] has instruments that are, priceless pieces of art that he was able to share,” Warner said. “People were able to look at them and get to see them up close, which was really wonderful. He was able to explain the significance of the art, like on his drum, and the meaning of the different animals and the colors.”

According to Warner, SDI’s goal was to educate the Berry community, while also celebrating the culture of Native Americans. 

“Hopefully it has educated people and maybe addressed some misinformation that people had,” Warner said. “I know that that’s a big focus for Dave, to myth bust common misconceptions and to kind of set the record straight. So, hopefully it gave people a taste of what Indigenous cultures are actually like. Hopefully it showed them that these are really complex cultures and their music is very complex and very beautiful.”

The celebration of Native American voices and culture does not end with the month of November. SDI hopes to have Trezak back next semester to educate more and will welcome Holiday Simmons to Berry who is a Black, Cherokee mental health practitioner out of Atlanta. 

“We had talked about having him come out this month,” Warner said. “But we had decided that the event would be better served next semester so that we have more time to put resources into it and to kind of talk about what we want from that event. So, that unfortunately has been postponed until next semester.”

There are multiple ways students can observe Native American Heritage Month. According to Warner, spotlighting Native American voices and supporting them in your community are just two ways students can celebrate and learn about Indigenous people. 

“Talk to native people,” Warner said. “Please seek out native sources and authors. Uplift own voices, whether that’s Native voices last month or was LGBTQ voices or it’s Black voices during Black History Month. We have a post coming up on our Instagram that is native authors whose books are in the Berry library so students can get access to those books for free.”

The SDI Instagram page can be found at berrycollegesdi and a playlist of books by Indigenous authors can be found on the iBook store on iPhones. 

Posted by Campus Carrier

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