Celebrating Native Culture and Community

The American Indian Resource Center hosts sixth annual ‘Drum Feast,’ highlights culture, music and dance

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The Senderos organization focuses on binding people together through art and ethnic traditions. In this particular routine, pineapples are a large component of the choreography. The fruit represents hospitality to many, including Latinx culture. Photo by Sean MacNaughton
The Senderos organization focuses on binding people together through art and ethnic traditions. In this particular routine, pineapples are a large component of the choreography. The fruit represents hospitality to many, including Latinx culture. Photo by Sean MacNaughton

In the U.S. there are currently over 560 Indian tribes recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Over 100 of these are in California, and another 78 tribes are petitioning for recognition in the state. The sixth annual Drum Feast, hosted by the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC), brought attention to Native culture and traditions in Santa Cruz to help the UC Santa Cruz community see that Native culture is alive and thriving. As the event began, the Native American Veterans troop performed a ceremonial blessing for the performers on the Family Student Housing field. About 250 guests attended the April 22 event to watch indigenous dances and eat traditional Native American foods like fry bread and tamales on the sunny afternoon.

“I think a lot of people have this idea that American Indians don’t exist anymore and there are no Native Americans on [the UCSC] campus,” said director of the AIRC Dr. Rebecca Hernandez Rosser.

Several members of the Native Veterans Association attended the Drum Feast in full tribal regalia at the Family Student Housing field on Saturday. Photo by Sean MacNaughton
Several members of the Native Veterans Association attended the Drum Feast in full tribal regalia at the Family Student Housing field on Saturday. Photo by Sean MacNaughton

According to the 2010 census, 5.2 million U.S. residents reported being American Indian or Alaska Native alone or in combination with some other race. Over 2.9 million reported being American Indian or Alaska Native alone. In 2016, the UC system and UCSC listed that less than 1 percent of individuals identify as American Indian.

This was the second time Rosser helped organize the event as AIRC director. She has personal connections to a Native community as she identifies as part of the Mescalero Apache tribe and as Mexican American.

The event can take up to one year to plan because of the timeline of scheduling vendors and inviting performers and organizations. These groups provide information about Native causes and lend assistance to members of the Native American community.

“What takes a lot of time is reaching out to vendors and performers,” said Ashley Carrillo, one the lead interns of the AIRC and a co-chair for the event. Carrillo, who identifies with the Navajo Indian tribe and as a Mexican American, said the small presence of Native people makes it even more important to show the UCSC community the presence of Native cultures.

“If you see me, I’m a Native American. People want to picture us to look a certain way […] The media makes us look like we have to be like cowboys and Indians of the west,” said Student Alliance of North American Indians co-chair Raymond Lebeau, a third-year volunteer and AIRC intern who identifies with the Pit River tribe. “In reality, I’m a student here. It’s important to see that [Native Americans] are here and this is what we look like and our cultures exist.”

Throughout the event, Rosser introduced performers as they entered the blessed, circular field. Performers included the Aztec White Hawk Dancers, People of the Island Dancers, Centeotl Danza y Baile and Grupo Folklórico Mejicas.

Josie Clerfond, a third-year UCSC student, performs with People of the Island, a dance group focused on Polynesian tradition and culture. Photo by Sean MacNaughton
Josie Clerfond, a third-year UCSC student, performs with People of the Island, a dance group focused on Polynesian tradition and culture. Photo by Sean MacNaughton

“Most people are unaware of what Natives look like or what they do and what type of food they eat,” said Jemzi Ortiz-Franks, one of the performers for Grupo Folklórico Mejicas. Her group performed a traditional indigenous dance from San Luis Potosí, Mexico. She is a second-year human biology major who identifies as half Native with the Northern Cheyenne tribe and as Mexican American.

“It’s important to acknowledge these small tribes and all these languages that you wouldn’t even know about because there are not many Natives on campus,” Ortiz-Frank said.

The event concluded with a traditional Aztec friendship dance from the Aztec White Hawk Dancers, who invited everyone from the event into the blessed performance circle to learn and perform the dance.

“We have a strong group of Native students and it just provides us an opportunity to share a little about ourselves and to educate folks about our culture,” Rosser said.