Native American students celebrate strength, resilience at UNDA hush fell over the American Indian Center at the University of North Dakota Friday as a soulful, keening sound emerged from the lips of Rebecca Smith, a student who is working two jobs to support three young children. Her song was not of lament but of “having strength and prayer, and focus,” she explained before singing the self-written piece, one of several moments highlighted during First Nations Day on campus.
By: By Jennifer Johnson , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
A hush fell over the American Indian Center at the University of North Dakota Friday as a soulful, keening sound emerged from the lips of Rebecca Smith, a student who is working two jobs to support three young children.
Her song was not of lament but of “having strength and prayer, and focus,” she explained before singing the self-written piece, one of several moments highlighted during First Nations Day on campus.
“Singing and prayer through song is what helps keep me stay focused,” she said. “It keeps my mind from not going crazy from everything that’s going on in my daily life.”
Students, families and visitors took comfort from the cold Friday by packing into the small room to hear Smith, a Spirit Lake Nation member who is majoring in social work and Indian studies, and other speakers share their stories.
Celebrated every year on the first Friday of October, First Nations Day is intended to acknowledge the contributions Indians have made to North Dakota and the nation, said Michelle Kozel, program coordinator at American Indian Student Services.
“We try to feature students to share their experiences, their thoughts,” she said before the event. “Some will share poetry, others are reading. Others will try to teach a little bit about their nation.”
There are 546 Indians on campus, and the number continues to grow every year, said AISS Assistant Director Linda Neuerburg.
Resilience, perseverance and spirituality were common themes in the pieces, all of which carved out the voice unique to Indian cultures.
“Every Native American is a survivor,” said pre-med student Shyleen Hall, reading a piece by Louise Erdrich.
The New York Times bestselling author, like Hall, is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.
Some students shared their own poems and stories.
Pre-law student Dash Thunder, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, told a story of a young boxer who kept losing matches until he turned to his uncle for help.
The uncle told his nephew he put something special in his gloves, and gave them back with a slit cut in the sides. He advised the young boxer to keep hitting opponents harder every time, which would make the gloves harder and more powerful.
The boxer started to win matches and asked his uncle about what exactly he placed in the gloves.
“(The uncle replied) ‘It’s called ‘nottoc.’ That’s cotton spelled backwards,’” said Thunder. “‘You believed what I told you, and look at how far it took you.’”
Thunder said the story was passed down by his grandfather, who advised him that his belief is the biggest thing that will carry him through tough times in life.
“He said, ‘Whatever you believe in, you really have to dig down deep and go for it,’” Thunder said. “I thought that with a lot of young people here, they could use that story.”