The sound of drums echoed in the Kent Student Center as members of the Native American community and Kent State’s Native American Student Association (NASA) celebrated its first fall gathering with dancing, colorful regalia, information tables and crafts in Kent Market 2, Dec. 2.
Native Americans from as far as New York and Pennsylvania traveled to attend the fall gathering this year, some bringing their children to teach them their traditions.
“The specific purpose of the fall gathering more than anything is to raise awareness of our organization and the identity of Native American culture,” said Michael Humphreys, a sophomore business management major and co-president of NASA.
Differing from more traditional gatherings within Native American culture such as pow wows, the fall gathering, also known as a social, functioned as an informal way for Native Americans to join and enjoy dancing and food, said Humphreys.
“Pow wows are very traditional in the sense that there is an arena leader, a director of the dancers and multiple drums,” Humphreys said.
The informal nature of the gathering included tables showcasing beadwork and pottery, Native American history and a table for children to make dream catchers. Dancers wore the traditional regalia of their tribes and stepped in a large circle to the drums’ rhythm.
“I like to watch the dancing,” said Kasey Willener, a senior history major and NASA treasurer. “It’s something that I’ve seen a few times throughout my life, and I wish I would have participated in more.”
Although the gathering’s main purpose was to bring together members of the Native American community, it encouraged others to join as well.
“We wanted to keep it very informal and friendly,” Humphreys said. “[We wanted to] allow people to come check us out and see what it’s all about, native culture and all.”
While the gathering upheld a positive and festive mood, the reasons behind the pride the Native Americans hold for their culture loomed.
The Native American population has experienced constant turmoil for centuries due to poor treatment, limited resources and colonization. As recorded in the 2015 census, 6.6 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives live in the United States, making up about 2 percent of the country’s population.
“I’ve had people come up to me and want to touch me because they’ve never met a Native American Indian before,” said Marian Renee Concha-Saastamoinen, a native elder and mentor for NASA. “Sometimes they don’t know what to think about me because I have my high cheekbones and they’re like, ‘What is she?’”
Although gatherings are based on community and traditions, a common theme was to educate those who unfamiliar with the culture in hopes to erase stereotypes branded to Native American culture.
“The most important thing is being able to educate non-native people about the cultural aspects we have and sharing that with people,” Willener said. “It helps us keep the history alive and remember how we got to where we are.”
Kelsey Meszaros is the student affairs reporter. Contact her at [email protected]