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Berkeley celebrates Native American Heritage month

By Angel Gonzalez Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday November 18, 2000

A Chinook blessing was given last Thursday at the dining commons of Berkeley’s International House in celebration of Native American Heritage month.  

“We call upon all those who have lived on this earth, our ancestors, and our friends, who dreamed the best for future generations,” the blessing began. “We call upon all that we must hold sacred, the presence and power of the Great Spirit of love and truth, which flows through all the universe to be with us – to teach us and show us the way.” 

November is Native American Heritage month, and the celebration at International House featured dishes from several tribes. Dinner was followed by traditional dances. The kitchen, under the supervision of guest chef Zachary Runningwolf, served Three Sisters buffalo stew, accompanied by Blackfoot beef and berry soup. Pawnee roast prairie chicken was served with Navajo stuffed sweet peppers. Sweet Indian pudding was served as dessert. 

The event, also sponsored by the Intertribal Student Council and UC Berkeley Native American studies, also featured a dance demonstration led by musicians and dancers from Berkeley and other places. There was also an arts and craft exposition at the International House’s Great Hall. 

“Dance is my life, it keeps me grounded,” said Aurora Mamea, a worker at the Native American Health Center in San Francisco. Mamea, who is a Blackfoot, performed a healing dance wearing a “jingle dress,” which carries many shiny metal bells that rattle when in movement. 

The dance goes beyond mere cultural preservation, Mamea said.  

“When we dance, we celebrate for life. We dance for those who can’t. For the elderly, and for our ancestors who have passed away,” she said. 

Dancer Sharilane Suke, a faculty assistant at the Haas school of business, is of mixed Iroquois, Cherokee and Irish heritage. She danced with an eagle feather handed to her by one of the elders of her family, a proof of having overcome severe personal hardship. Suke performed the turtle clan dance. 

“The are three clans in the Iroquois – wolf, bear and turtle,” she said. “But a U.S. government program in the late 1800s separated many families, and almost everybody lost track of their clan.”  

Lawrence Killsback, an environmental science student, is Northern Cheyenne. He wore eagle feathers on his back and head.  

“We’re trying to show that there’s an Native American community in the campus and in the Bay Area,” he said. “We must celebrate our survival. This is specially important in this date, since Thanksgiving, for us, is a day of mourning. We remember the things that have passed since that day.” 

Native Americans still face enormous difficulties in carving themselves a niche in society. According to Killsback, the ban of Affirmative Action has been prejudicial to Indian presence on campus. “Before, there were 30 students. Now there are four,” he said. “And most of those who succeed in higher education go to work for Silicon Valley companies and blend into the mainstream. Few ever go back to their reservations.”