Forum celebrates Native American culture

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Catalina Benavides, a 15-year member of the Teokalli Aztec Dancers from San Antonio, performs an ancient Aztec dance at the Alma de Mujer Center for Social Change, Saturday. The dance was part of a two-day event that addressed the issue of the lack of representation of Native American students on campus.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

The Native American and Indigenous Student Assembly hosted the first annual Uniting the Eagle and the Condor Symposium, a two-day event to address the issue of the lack of representation of Native American students on campus. Students and members of the community were invited to the symposium Friday, which was blessed by a Coahuiltecan elder. The symposium also included an indigenous and native student panel, an indigenous art show and a panel of keynote speakers from different tribes. Saturday a group performed a tribal dance at the Alma de Mujer Center for Social Change.

Ethnic studies senior Roberto Flotte said he helped plan the event to bring together Native American students on campus.

“I wanted to create an event that targeted native students because it is difficult to target them,” Flotte said. “We don’t know who they are. I wanted to build a community of students with the same backgrounds.”

Flotte said he came with the idea for the event after researching the representation of Native American students at the University.

“I researched databases of newspapers from 1982 to 2011, and I only found one story relating to native students in The Daily Texan,” Flotte said. “It made me wonder why we are portrayed as nonexistent in the University.”

The University census counts students who identify as both Native American and another race as a race that is not Native American and does not recognize Native Americans in its data.
Flotte said part of this event was to teach native students about their cultural heritage.

“I wanted native students to learn about their culture because often they don’t feel comfortable identifying with it,” Flotte said. “Part of the reason they are not comfortable is because there is no place for them to express it on campus.”

Social work senior Sarah Strong said she attended the symposium because she wanted to learn about and take part in the cultural aspects of Native American ceremonies.

“The thing that impacted me the most from this event is learning that what you read in textbooks is not always reality for these students,” Strong said. “Textbooks paint them as people of the past but they are alive and well today and have issues.”

Strong said she was excited that the event gave a voice to this underrepresented group.

“I feel like you have to speak to the people to know where they are coming from,” Strong said. “Their voices highlight issues that bear implications.”

Radio-television-film sophomore Andy Escobar said he attended the symposium because he has always been interested in Native American culture, and it was a way to educate himself about it.

“The event taught me that people need to be more aware of the fact that there are more cultures out there than they think,” Escobar said.