Native American students keep traditions alive while promoting higher education

State Hornet Staff


Social science major Deserea Langley is one of many Native American students who have struggled to maintain  native identity after leaving their reservation to attend Sacramento State.


She is a part of the Paiute Shoshone tribe from Susanville Indian Rancheria, a reservation located in Lassen County.


When arriving on campus, she struggled to balance education while staying connected with her tribe until she met others with similar experiences through the Ensuring Native Indian Traditions club at Sac State.


“Being from a reservation is different,” Langley said. “Sac State is bigger than my home town so this was a huge culture shock. I didn’t know anyone and felt alone.


“It was hard to balance my life in school and in my tribe but [Ensuring Native Indian Traditions] helped me meet Native American students and faculty who I was able to relate with.”


The club was created in 2003 to promote higher education for Native American students while preserving and protecting the rights and responsibilities of their traditions.


Langley said aside from the club being a support system, she joined to help her Native community with struggles such as poverty, by participating in community services and fundraisers held throughout the year.


Last December, members raised more than $2,000 by selling frybread to the Sacramento community and donated the funds to families in need through the Sacramento Native American Health Center Adopt-A-Family program.


The club also promotes higher education to the Native American youth by holding student panels for high school students living in tribal communities. During the panels, club members speak about their transition from living on a reservation to their experiences in college.


Secretary for Ensuring Native Indian Traditions Erika Salinas said the event has helped many youth who have been hesitant to leave the reservations to attend college because they have received advice from other Native American students attending Sac State who have gone through similar experiences.


According to Sac State’s Office of Institutional Research, in fall 2013

Native American students had one of the lowest enrollment rates by representing only 0.1 percent of the entire student body. Native American professors made up 1.1 percent of the University’s faculty.


Salinas said education is not common among Native Americans because the lack of trust in the schooling systems.


“In the past, schooling systems were a direct assault on the Native American culture,” Salinas said.  “Courses offered in these schools were like cleaning, housework, church, agricultural activities, nothing like it is today. Our children were beaten for speaking their languages or practicing traditional culture. Many of them had their hair cut off, raped, and struggled to have connections to their family.”


To help keep their Native traditions alive, members of the club are working on preserving and revitalizing languages. They create traditional necklaces and attend pow-wows, which are community events where different tribes come together to dance.


Members also attend traditional ceremonies, but not always together because they are from different tribes, including Comanche, Yurok, Paiute, Wintu, Miwok, Navajo and Wailaki.


“It is important to keep tradition alive so that our young people know the traditions of our people,” Langley said. “It also allows families to come together and generations to have contact with one another. It provides stability and keeps our people alive.”


There are many Native American faculty on campus who have been participating with ENIT and have been able to advise and connect with Native students.


Native American Studies Director Brian Baker has been collaborating with members of ENIT to host the annual Native American Culture Week in March, which educates Sac State students about the Native American culture and issues.


This year’s culture week covered topics like The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 and federal recognition of Wilton Rancheria because many tribes are not recognized by the government and ,therefore, do not receive the same health care benefits and cultural revitalization.


“I decided to participate with ENIT to help students going through what I went through as a Native American undergraduate student,” Baker said.

“This club has given Native American students a sense of group unity where members have the same kind of principles, culture, values and identities.”