On Monday, students cherished a sunrise together with song, prayer and reflection. They heard empowering talks of Native American education and experiences. They even dug into the cultural roots of dream catchers while crafting one with their own hands. These are just some of the many ways people have been exploring and engaging in the rich layers of Indigenous culture at the 46th annual Native American Culture Days (NACD). While the celebration kicked off Monday, more activities are in store until Friday.
Presented by the Cross Cultural Center and the Native American Culture Days Planning Committee, NACD is a week-long event honoring Indigenous people of the Americas. Themed “Gathering the Roots of Tradition; Weaving a Dream for the Future,” NACD aims to spread awareness of Native American social, cultural and political history, as well as bring solidarity to the culture as a whole.
Program coordinator Crystal Marich mentioned that UC Davis has been active in celebrating Native American culture and raising awareness for many years.
“The UC Davis campus [has consistently held] one of the longest-running student-organized powwows in the state of California, and that’s something our campus should be really proud of,” Marich said. “NACD is one of the few spaces and times on campus where people feel like their culture is able to be seen on their own terms in a way that’s empowering, educational and also respectful.”
NACD’s mission to bond cultures and communities starts from within. According to Briana Rivas, Native American Community and Culture Days coordinator, planning for NACD involved a collaborative approach.
“The opinions, ideas and suggestions of the Native community on our campus [were] incredibly important for me to incorporate in NACD,” Rivas said. “As a result, the NACD committee wanted to focus more on interactive workshops as a way to allow participants to engage in the community, and so that’s what we tried to emphasize in our events.”
Some of the week’s upcoming events include a talk on Xican@s and Indigenous relations today, a gallery walkthrough for Inuit stone art on Wednesday and two gift-making and gift-exchanging workshops on Thursday.
“On Thursday, we have two events: ‘Gifts of the Land’ and ‘Gifts from the Sea,’” Marich said. “[The planning committee members] all come from different tribal and Indigenous traditions and communities, but one thing that is really similar [among all] native communities is [the principle] of respect and generosity, and that was something we wanted to share and give with other people.”
As for Friday, NACD will present the first annual Indigenous Arts Market. In store for the all-day bazaar are 20 arts and crafts vendors and live performances. To headline the show, NACD has invited Sicangu Lakota hip-hop artist Frank Waln to make his West Coast debut.
Though hip-hop-driven, Waln described his Lakota culture as the engine of his creative process.
“I use hip-hop to see through the lens of my culture,” Waln said. “I just tell stories about my life, what I’m going through and what [the] people I love are going through — our realities. I guess the overall theme is [that] I just want people, native or not, to realize that Indigenous folks deserve to be happy and healthy just like everyone else. We’re human beings just like everyone else.”
Consistent with NACD’s mission, Waln treats music as a powerful platform to build connections, spread awareness and dispel stereotypes. He recently took his music to the MTV series “Rebel Music,” which did an episode on Indigenous musicians using their art to make social change.
“Music is a good way to not only express history, facts and information, but just impact emotions and feelings as well,” Waln said. “[Working with MTV] was a learning experience for me but it was also a privileged position to be in as an artist coming from a group that is marginalized and [because] our voices aren’t portrayed in mainstream media.”
From music to multifaceted discussions, NACD blends activity and awareness with intent to nourish our campus and community climate for days to come.
“I’m incredibly proud of each and every event; they all have a lot to offer,” Rivas said. “Our Culture Days provide more awareness and visibility to Native and Indigenous culture while cultivating a sense of community and building allies beyond the community.”
Visit NACD’s event page for more information.
Graphic by Dulce Gonzalez.