Raising cultural awareness on Pennsylvania campus

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VILLANOVA, Pa. - Drum beats echoed through campus and the people's voice was again heard singing on the land during Villanova University's second annual Native American Festival.

On a lawn surrounded by trees and washed by sunshine, the autumn harvest atmosphere offered traditional music and dance, American Indian foods, displays, vendors and storytelling to the passers-by who stopped to listen.

"The goal is to give the campus an idea of what actual American Indian culture is," said sophomore Richard Williams, part Mohawk, president of the Native American Student Association (NASA).

The festival was established by the Athletic Department, Office of Multicultural Affairs and NASA. NASA formed three years ago when Robin Hoose, staff advisor/consultant for NASA, sought American Indian students to establish a presence on campus. Student Julie Jackson, part Nanticoke, was among the only students to respond. She said she got involved because "this land is Lenape land. It's a great way to honor those here before Villanova was built."

"This year for the first time, we have four officers and a lot more people," said Jackson.

NASA held its first festival last fall. Reappearing this year was Jim Beer and the Band UNAMI. Beer, of Lenape descent, is a contemporary musician who was nominated for Best Independent Release and Folk Artist of the Year Native American Music awards. His music focuses on Native issues and celebrates life. Beer, who is active in the public school system with programs about Lenape culture, is also involved in benefit concerts to protect the rivers.

Also appearing was Chief Buffy Brown and the Southeastern Cherokee Confederacy of Pennsylvania drummers, dancers and singers. The seven members of the Cherokee Sisters formed four years ago. Drummer and grandmother Shining Star said the group came together with a desire to give the women a voice as they once traditionally had their own drum.

"We pray before we play," said Shining Star. "We pray to be once voice to the people."

Hoose said a goal of NASA is to bring others forward who are in some way repressing their identity. Of a student population of nearly 10,000 only 26 identify themselves as American Indian.

"Leaving Indian country to come here isn't easy," said history professor Franklin Farmer, Eihota Cherokee/Cree, a member of the NASA board. "What I would like to do is have students who are not conscious of their heritage begin to connect with it. I think there's a lot of pressure. It's one thing to be a minority and another to be a minority's minority."

Farmer's courses focus on the effects of European conquest to bring understanding of Indian issues that are now imparted around the entire hemisphere.

"I like to think my course is a place to feel at home, put their feathers on so to speak," he said. "Some of the stereotypes developed in the past few years are much more damaging than before."

Many students have no idea about stereotyping issues such as mascots and casinos, said history professor Paul Rosier. Rosier, author of two books, "Rebirth of the Black Creek Nation 1912-1954" and "Native American Issues," said the response he sees in the classroom is, "students feel short changed in high school. Indian history is given a chapter or two but for most students, American Indian history ends in the 1890s. They feel it's a story that should be told."

A lot of correction needs to be made, he said, especially of the media stereotyping of mascots including the Redskins and Braves.

"The Redskins situation based in Washington, D.C. bothers me a lot. It's the nation's capital. What does that say? If we allow that stereotype in public places, we make it acceptable in other ways," Rosier said.

The warm sunshine and falling leaves touched each person who was drawn to listen to the music and browse the displays at the former Catholic boy's school.

"It's an important effort," said Hoose. "We hope to see it grow each year."