On Saturday’s trip to Seneca's Ganondagan State, students had the opportunity to relax in a traditional Iroquois longhouse.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and the University has taken action in its commitment to diversity.

On Oct. 30, 20 students, along with the Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Reverend Allison Stokes and the Director of Diversity Enhancement Joe Latimer, gathered in front of the Interfaith Chapel for a free 20 minute bus trip to the Ganondagan State Historic Site in Ontario County.

Over 300 years ago, the 245-acre National Historic Landmark was one of the largest Seneca towns in the Haudenosaunee (also referred to as Iroquois) territory.

In 1966, the site was reconstructed and preserved for landmark status, including remodeled Longhouses and furniture made from the same material that traditional Iroquois people used.

On Saturday, students and faculty had the opportunity to tour the historic site from noon to 4 p.m. They were also able to sit down in one of the Longhouses and hear “The Story of the Peace Maker,” an oral tradition about the emergence of Ganondagan as the “Town of Peace,” amongst the Seneca.

Their tour guide also shared the Seneca spiritual and governing practices with students.
For the last hour of the trip, everyone had fun playing kabocha-toli, which means stick ball in the Choctaw language, on the open field by the hills.

But the trip was not an anomalous effort by the University to reach out to Native American communities.

Since last summer, Dean of Admissions Jonathan Burdick has been working hard to get the University involved with College Horizons. College Horizons is a 12-year-old nonprofit organization, comprised of 30 to 40 universities, devoted to preparing and recruiting Native American high school students for college.

UR was accepted into the organization after attending three events in June and July in Hawaii, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

Burdick was able to kickoff UR’s involvement by orchestrating a Native American educational summit on Aug. 17. The Summit featured tribal leaders from throughout New York state, as well as representatives from other universities — most notably Cornell University and the Rochester Institute of Technology — that have well-established Native American recruitment programs. Participants discussed some of the educational plights that Native American communities face, such as a 46 percent high school graduation rate.

After the summit, the Office of Admissions immediately committed to improving their efforts to build bridges with Native American communities.

Since it is a relatively new initiative, Admissions is carefully planning their events to effectively and sensitively reach out. With over 564 federally recognized tribes, Latimer acknowledged that the vast nature of the Native American culture is no easy task.

“Learning the great diversity of language and culture is hard to track,” Burdick said. “Because there are so many different identifications.”

However, he added that Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development Professor Dr. Stephanie Waterman, (the first Onondaga Indian to earn a Ph.D from Syracuse University) as well as Mandi Burnette of the Psychology Department have helped advise Admissions in their approach.

“They have helped us understand that we need to build a bridge between UR and the Native American population in Central and Western New York,” Burdick said. “But we want to increase efforts, not only in suburbs and cities, but reservations and other regions throughout the nation.”

Since getting on-board with College Horizons, UR has agreed to host 2011’s conference, which will bring 200 Native American students from across the nation to participate in college preparation workshops on the River Campus next June.

The Admissions Office has also designated a new position to tackle their initiative on a student level.

The Native American Affairs Intern has been instrumental in a majority of the University’s recent initiatives, including Saturday’s trip. International Relations major and sophomore Christopher Bethmann was approached at the end of last year for the position.

With the advice of Waterman, Joe Latimer reached out to Bethmann when 20 Seneca high school students expressed interest in touring UR.

Since then, Bethmann, who is an Oneida and Mohawk Indian, has filled the role as the Native American

Affairs Intern, and is taking his responsibility seriously.
Bethmann played a key role in planning the summit on Aug. 17, which included members of six Iroquois nations, chiefs and Ganondagan spirit dancers.

As the grandson of a storyteller and an Oneida medicine man who was very involved in the ’70s and ’80s with Native American activism, Bethmann has taken on several projects in UR.

In celebration of Native American Heritage month, Bethmann is planning a weekend of documentary films that focus on modern-day Iroquois topics.

The event, which is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 20, is a part of the way Bethmann envisions his heritage month.

“It’s about raising awareness,” he said. “That’s a very important part of Native American Heritage month.”
Some additional events lined up for the month include a Native American Roundtable that Students for Interfaith Action have scheduled for Nov. 30, as well as several events that will be spearheaded by Dr. Sophina Calderon of the UR Medical Center, a Navajo woman.

The history of Native American Heritage Month is one that isn’t far from home. In 1912, anthropologist Dr. Arthur Parker, then the Director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Science, negotiated with the Boy Scouts of America to host a one-day observance of Native American history and culture. Eventually, President Gerald Ford signed legislation proposed by Cherokee/Osage Jerry High Eagle for a Native American week from Oct. 10 to 16.

The week was juggled around for some time, until President George H.W. Bush issued the current month-long observance in 1990. The Indian country has agreed upon this year’s theme: “Life is Sacred — Celebrate Healthy Native Communities.”

Capitalizing on Native American Heritage month, the Ganondagan trip reflects a campus-wide effort to foster greater understanding of the culture.

“Office of Minority Students Affairs, Admission and the Campus Diversity Roundtable,” Latimer said, listing the groups that were involved in making the trip happen. “This speaks to the collaborative effort. It’s not just Admissions that is acting upon this; this is now a campus-wide endeavor and that’s what it needs to be.”

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