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ARCHIVES: A New Tribe Emerges: USB Gets a Native American Culture Club and Welcomes People from All Nationalities (2000)

A traditional Native American headdress. The Anthropology Society offered to work with the Native American Club to get them up and running. STATESMAN FILE

Originally published on October 5, 2000

In a distant past that has gone down in history, the Shinnecock and the Montaukett roamed this land. As did the Sioux, and the Pinnecoose, and the Seneca, and the Cricket Shields. These are the names of the indigenous peoples of America. After a long exile, they are returning, in the form of Stony Brook’s new Native American Culture Club.

Without so much as an executive board, an official advisor, or even the required number of signatures needed to make an official club, the group held its first meeting last Tuesday, September 26, in the Peace Center of the Old Chemistry Building. 

Colleen Wallahora, assistant to the chair of women’s studies, and organizer of the ad hoc session, began by introducing herself and her desire to help institute a long lasting club dedicated to promoting the heritage of America’s first people.

“This meeting is about deciding how best to proceed with getting a Native American Club started here at Stony Brook,” said Wallahora. The first order of business was to discuss how to increase the club’s membership. Many felt that concepts of ethnicity could strongly influence people’s decision to join.

“The indigenous population on campus, as with most places in America, is very low,” said Wallahora. “Initially, the president’s office gave me a list with 12 students and 13 faculty who identified themselves as Native American,” Wallahora said. “But even that may not be accurate because some people [who filled out the forms] had misconceptions about what Native Americans really are.”

Some members suggested that while there are few pure American Indians on campus, there are many students with native lineage who may think that a Native American Club does not welcome them.

“I talked to a few people on campus who have Native American blood, but did not want to come because they’re mixed,” said undergraduate Alice Agnostini-Mastrocinque, who is Puerto Rican and Taino Indian. “Others didn’t want to come because they’re not registered,” she added, referring to the registration number one must have issued by the US government to be considered a true Native American.

The scarcity of pure natives is reflected by those who were present at the meeting, most of whom identified themselves as something other than strictly native, such as African American, Irish Catholic, Puerto Rican, Korean.

But race and ethnicity are irrelevant to membership, according to Wallahora. “This club is open to anyone interested in American Indian culture, as all of us here show,” she said.

It was suggested that the group be known as the Native American Culture club instead of the Native American Club. It was also decided that it should be made clear that the group welcomes everyone- from pure American Indians to those with only native ancestors to those with no native lineage at all.

The next step was to develop activities the club could have during the year. George Meyer, assistant vice president for presidential initiatives and empty to President Kenny, as well as members of the Anthropology Society stopped by to offer suggestions. Meyer helped organize last year’s Stony Brook Pow Wow, with the cooperation of the Shinnecock and Mountaukett Indians on Long Island.

“At first it was going to be a small pow wow on campus,” said Meyer, “but as our project base grew, we decided to expand it.”

The three-day event, which occurred on Father’s Day weekend of the summer of 1999, brought together groups from Texas, North Carolina, New York, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Maine and even Ecuador. The vast array that is American Indian culture was showcased through food, music, dance, art, crafts, and storytelling.

It was originally planned to raise money for scholarships for Native American students, but so much was spent on making the event a success that enough money was raised for only two scholarships. Although there was a lot of community interest in having another pow wow, there wasn’t enough financial base.

“We went from 0- 60 so fast, and for a while after the pow wow there was nothing on campus in the way of Native American culture, It would be great for this club to build something lasting here,” said Meyer. He also stressed the need for people of American Indian descent to come together, saying “We want to have more things like pow wows, but we can’t do that without a real Native American group. It’s important to let them have something that’s their own.”

Possible events the group is considering are a Native American Week spotlighting the different aspects of the culture, a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner and trips to American Indian reservations.

Stacey Enslow, former president of the Anthropology Society, suggested that the group have workshops addressing social issues concerning tribes. Possible topics include casinos on reservations, the sale of traditional arts and crafts, alcoholism and the overall poverty on most reservations.

Jennifer Cherry, the new Antho Society president, extended their aid to the new group. “We’re very interested in working with you, and will be around for the next meeting” said Cherry.

The group is also considering ideas for their regular meetings. Guest speakers, such as professors within the university, or tribal members presenting aspects of their culture, as being pursued. A video series, addressing everything from educational to historical to political perspectives on American Indians, as well as contemporary entertainment films, are also being considered. And of course there will be parties.

“We’d like to have things that everyone can enjoy,” said Wallahora. “We’re leaving it completely open to the students.”

The next Native American Culture Club meeting will be Thursday October 12, beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the Old Chemistry Building Peace Center. For more information call Colleen Wallahora at 632-9176, or email her at [email protected].

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