First Elder-in-Residence Serves as Native American Link to the Past

Courtesy Cal Poly Pomona/ Lorene Sisquoc is serving as the first elder/scholar-in-residence at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California.

Indian Country Today

First Elder-in-Residence Serves as Native American Link to the Past

As a child, Lorene Sisquoc remembers spending summers with her grandmother and her great-aunts as they passed down stories about the feats of tribal leaders and ancient customs and traditions.

Sisquoc listened intently to the details of those narratives and absorbed this oral history. She later knew it was her responsibility to pass it down to the tribe’s next generations.

Decades later, she is upholding that tradition as the first elder/scholar-in-residence at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California. Sisquoc was formally introduced to the campus community during a ceremony on September 30, 2015. She’ll spend her time in the Native American Student Center and also assist with the Natives Aiming to Inspire Values in Education (NATIVE) Pipeline program.

“My role is to encourage Native American students to go forward in their education but don’t forget your traditions and your ways.” Sisquoc says. “You can live in both worlds. You can get your education but you can also embrace your culture, traditions and your language.”

Sisquoc’s grandmother, Ida Gooday, was born in 1903 as a prisoner of war of the U.S. government at Fort Sill Apache in Oklahoma. She later moved to Arizona. Sisquoc’s grandmother spent her life in a boarding school in Arizona and graduated from Phoenix Indian School. After earning a teaching credential in 1927, she moved with Sisquoc’s mother, Tonita Largo Glover, from Arizona to Sherman Indian School in Riverside in 1951. Lorene Sisquoc’s life began in 1960 on the campus of Sherman Indian School.She is a member of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe and a descendant of the Mountain Cahuilla of Southern California. Sisquoc can trace her ancestry to Mangas Coloradas, the last chief of the Mimbreno Apaches; Chief Loco of the Warm Springs Apaches and Manuel Largo, a leader of the Mountain Cahuilla.

“I was raised and influenced by many elders. The first one was my grandmother and her sisters. They shared memories of our ancestors and told stories of them, our chief and leaders in our family,” Sisquoc says. “We pay attention to the elders and pass things on. That’s how our language and our songs are kept alive.”

In 1982, Sisquoc began work at Sherman Indian High School as a dormitory staff member. Three years later, she began volunteer training under the tutelage of Ramona K. Bradley, co-founder and curator of the Sherman Indian Museum.

Sisquoc co-founded the Mother Earth Clan Cultural Programs in 1986. She became volunteer curator/manager of the Sherman Indian Museum in 1991, and has taught classes in Native American traditions and basketry at Sherman Indian High School since 1995.

There are an estimated 100 tribes in California, but studies show that only 1 percent of those members will pursue higher education. The lack of outreach to Native American students and the scarcity of role models are part of the problem. However, with efforts such as the NATIVE Pipeline program, Sisquoc has seen the number of Native American students entering college rise.

“In our native community, so many are the first generation to graduate high school in the last 20 years. Now it’s changing. Now they’re the first to go to college,” Sisquoc says. “The first question we ask our seniors in high school now is, ‘Where are you planning on going to college?’ That might not have been a question that was asked 10 to 20 years ago. Now it’s a standard question and the kids have an answer.”

This evolution also extends to her family. Sisquoc says her first grandchild graduated from high school last June and is studying at UC Riverside.

Changing the mindset of high school students about achieving a higher education is one of the goals of Cal Poly Pomona’s NATIVE Pipeline program, which was initiated by Ethnic and Women’s Studies Professor Sandy Kewanhaptewa-Dixon (Hopi) and has been supported by the Kellogg Legacy grant for four years. The pipeline also received a $150,000 gift from alumnus Don Huntley. The program is the only one of its kind in the California State University system, and the elder/scholar-in-residence is an outcrop of the pipeline.

“We’re really humbled and proud that she’s here with us. She’s from the local area and can speak truly to the local tribes for us. She’s been raised in the area and that is significant to us,” says Irvin Harrison, coordinator of the Native American Student Center. “We hope that our Native American students will gravitate to her and her energy.”

Sisquoc is a basket weaver and has extensive knowledge of native plants and their uses. She is dedicated to the preservation and continuance of Native American culture, and strives to ensure that Native American history is accurately depicted in the media.

During the fall quarter, Sisquoc has led workshops and presentations for Native American students on campus.

“I want to teach students to be proud of who they are and urge them to learn their tribal traditions and maybe inspire each of them to learn more about their tribal traditions,” Sisquoc says. “I’ll share with them what I know of my tribe and encourage them to find their traditions and their tribal backgrounds. Honor it and respect it. It will keep you strong.”

Comments (1)
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O'siyo Lori ~
Long time since we've made contact - 3 yrs ! Colorado is very nice, but I miss
Sherman (potlucks & gatherings, just stopping in to see you, the Pow Wow). The 1st place I went to visit after arriving here, was the Bison Fields - 10 minutes outside of the city. They are free range & allowed to wander anywhere they feel like & set up home. Eat some grass, walk around & find a nice tree to take a nap under, get some beauty sleep, wake up when they feel like it, walk a bit to go visit their herd members, maybe fall in love & start a family, eat some more delicious grass, get tempted to go over to the herd & nuzzle somebodies head or stay where you are to drop down & roll in the grass & try to work in a little more nap/dream time. Ah, what a life - Nap, Nuzzle, Eat enough grass to grow a nice coat for the winter, Roll around on the ground, Get up & do it all over again! Cost of living is lower over here so you get a lot more for your money. Slower pace of living too! People drive on the freeways like it's 1965 - no traffic jams - ever! Weather is a kinda of sporadic and a little bit of work to get used to - 90 degrees one day & Snow the next day (it melts pretty fast) . It just means - pack a coat. a scarf & gloves no matter how it looks or feels out there. Food is good everywhere & a real + is NO SMOG - ever! I get around pretty good in spite of the brain damage I re- ceived from my 2 Strokes & a craked skull (from a bad craniel surgery) that left me with severe Vertigo ( super dizziness) even when I'm laying down ! Happy to be over here (but I really miss seeing my friends) where life is at a slower pace & everyone is very nice & helpful I've graduated up a level of medical care from Nursing Home to Assisted Living (I have my own room like a batchlorett apt). They come in to do general cleaning - but I'm one door down from the Laundry room, so I take care of my clothes & I'm just around the corner from the Dining room. It feels like Boarding School. Also, I have little wooden fenced porch across the back side of my living/bedroom with a nice view of a greenbelt. And - an assort- ment of wild life that come up on it to visit (squirrels, opassums & raccoons on my porch. What Fun! Well ~ just wanted to make contact with you & fill you in on what I've been doing. I enjoyed reading your Indian Country Today expose. If I close my eyes - I can almost hear the sound of the Drum at Sherman ~ miss that very much ! Send me your phone # & best time to call you & we can chat a little.
Wado ~ Sierra
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