By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– CSUSB celebrated its graduating Native American students in a special recognition ceremony to honor their accomplishments and the university’s programs to increase the college-going rates and success of Native American students.
The ceremony, held June 5 at the university’s John M. Pfau Library, featured speakers, presentations to the students, the performance of bird songs and a Native Hoop Dancer.
The ceremony recognized two of the university’s Native American students: Leslie Archuletta, who graduated in March with a bachelor’s degree in English and will be attending San Jose State University in the fall as a graduate student in library information sciences; and Amanda Rose, who was not able to attend, but will be graduating in this month with a degree in psychology.
Archuletta was presented with a special Pendleton graduation blanket and an eagle feather. Vincent Whipple, the university’s director of tribal relations, said the blanket was a traditional sacred gift that could be shared with family. The eagle feather was in recognition of their accomplishments, Whipple said.
CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales spoke of the university’s commitment and work with Native American groups and people.
“I want to begin by acknowledging the many tribal nations and Native American people in our region that we call friends and partners,” Morales said. “Our university has long celebrated the richness diversity provides, and these collaborations help to promote the value of keeping Native American cultures alive.”
Morales also talked about the university’s historical background and future commitments.
“We are proud to affirm that our campus is located on traditional Serrano Ancestral Land. Just yesterday (June 4), we held the groundbreaking ceremony for the $90 million Santos Manuel Student Union expansion. Once completed, it will be the largest facility of its kind in the California State University system named in honor of a tribal elder.”
He also talked about the university launching a Native American speaker series created to illuminate the outstanding achievements of distinguished Native Americans in the arts, media, culture and academia.
Robert J. Nava, the university’s vice president for Advancement, said CSUSB, through its Office of Tribal Relations, is in the process of expanding its outreach in student recruitment and retention of Native American students. The department will hire a second staff member and will be hiring peer counselors who will provide ongoing support and help once native students arrive on campus.
“We’re starting a full native and deeper tradition as we are engaging the native communities not only in this region, but across California as well,” Nava said. “Our work and our promise made by the president to San Manuel (Band of Mission Indians) and to other native leaders is that we are going to build a model program to serve native students and native communities, and it’s going to happen here and I’m excited to be part of that.”
James Fenelon, a professor of sociology and director of the university’s Center for Indigenous Studies, said it was vital to acknowledge Native Americans and their accomplishments as well as the university’s work with native peoples.
“The importance of recognizing native nations and indigenous peoples, especially in such ceremonies as this seeing that it is informative and we are progressing, cannot be overstated,” Fenelon said. “Especially when we recognize that this has been, to use the phrase, a long time coming.”
The university’s goal is to inspire CSUSB Native American students and all students to make their hopes and aspirations a reality. It created the Native American Speaker Series, which features speakers from diverse tribal backgrounds who share a common commitment to advocating for native people, creating opportunities for tribal communities, advancing social justice, and supporting the rights of Indigenous people.
The series’ inaugural speaker was Charlene Teters, a Native American activist and artist as well as educator and lecturer, who talked about her experiences as a child, student, parent, activist protesting the use of Native Americans as sports mascots, and artist, sharing images of her multimedia artwork.
Earlier this year, the university appointed Native American educator and advocate Whipple as the university’s first director of Tribal Relations to increase the college-going rates and success of Native American students.
Last September, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians awarded an unprecedented three-year, $960,000 gift to CSUSB to increase the college-going rates and success of Native American students.
The grant’s goal is to increase Native American student enrollment by 50 percent. The grant will also sponsor hiring enrollment and outreach coordinators focused on building a pipeline from all high schools statewide to CSUSB, other California State University campuses or a University of California campus.