Flute playing and Powwow dancing dancing kicked off the inaugural Native American Day event on campus last week.
The Fresno State First Nations Indigenous Students organization hosted the event at the university Memorial Peace Garden.
Native American Day, celebrated each fourth Friday in September, was initiated in 1968 with a resolution signed by former California Gov. Ronald Reagan and was originally called “California Native American Day”.
First Nations vice president Jeannette Jimenez said she hoped the event cold bring awareness about the Native American culture, especially at the university.
Yoeme Tribe elder and former state representative David Alvarez said that although the public may see the rituals performed at the event they are much more personal for those involved.
“To us, what we’re doing today is not a presentation,” Alvarez said. “To us, it’s always considered prayer.”
Alvarez said celebrations such as last week’s would have been prohibited prior to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, which granted protections to American Indians under federal law to express and exercise their religious beliefs and practices.
“I wasn’t aware that our own native people weren’t even able to express their own religion in a public setting,” said Dulcinea DeLeon, a junior transfer student.
She added, “It’s disappointing that they barely got that right 40 years ago, but I’m glad that they’re able to express their religion [now].”
Event leaders expressed their gratitude for those who attended, especially those who brought their children to experience a culture that may be unfamiliar to them.
Alvarez, who has spent his life advocating for his heritage and cultural pride, said he personally teaches the younger generation to “resist assimilation” because “you do not have to assimilate in order to be an American.”