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Native American Heritage Month celebration overcomes obstacles

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg is always looking for ways to get students involved and combat the commuter campus mentality. For now, student participation in organized events can be unpredictable. The Multicultural Activities Council (MAC) organizes a myriad of events geared towards inclusivity, diversity promotion, and representing minority groups and minority group interests on campus. On Nov. 7, they hosted Stories Around the Fire at Harbourwalk Circle in celebration of Native American Heritage Month. MAC planned to present Native American traditions to students, but they ran into a few problems along the way.

Jon Jackson, the education development chair of MAC, reached out to one of the closest Native American tribes, located in Hollywood, Florida. He wanted the tribe to come and present some of their oral traditions to attendees. Despite offering his entire budget for the event, the tribe was not able to make the trip to St. Petersburg. Jackson stayed positive and made the best of the materials he had. He used traditions and stories told on YouTube to deliver the narratives to the students instead.

“I wanted to keep it fair and still have them [the tribes] tell their stories,” Jackson said.

The 7-9 p.m. time slot also presented a difficulty for MAC. Daylight savings left MAC in the dark before the event started. With one light and a small fake bonfire, few students saw the event.

The students who did attend made dreamcatchers at an activities table with friends holding iPhones for light. Presentations for the Iriquois, Blackfoot and Apache tribes were stationed at the front of the event for viewers to read, and Native American music was played over a loudspeaker.

MAC Executive Director Diana Estrada said she expected this event to be smaller compared to events like the drag show for LGBTQ, which brought in almost 100 people, or their Spanish Heritage Month, an early afternoon event that attracted around 45 people. She said student participation varies greatly, dependent on not only the type of event but also the time slot.

All things considered, Estrada was pleased with how Stories Around the Fire went and is more concerned with serving students than turnout.

“If we can make an impact on even one student, great,” Estrada said.

Photos courtesy of Ambria Whalum/Connect.

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