As Stan State students, faculty and staff gathered around the newly planted young Valley oak tree near Naraghi Hall of Science on Monday, Oct. 14, the voice of Nototomne Elder Katherine resonated from the podium.
“This tree may be where, one day, many students will sit and enjoy the shade and enjoy the significance of this oak tree,” Perez said.
Perez encouraged the audience to respect nature and what it provides for people, and she stressed the importance of teaching the next generation. Then members of the audience took turns shoveling soil around the tree and finished planting it together.
“The tree planting is both a literal and symbolic gesture about planting our roots here on campus from a Native perspective,” Ethnic Studies Professor Cueponcaxochitl Moreno Sandoval explained. “But more than that, it’s about building relationships with the native peoples of this land and centering their struggle and their sovereignty as one that should be a high priority across this campus.”
Three years ago, Ethnic Studies Professor Xamuel Bañales officially initiated the Indigenous Peoples Day events on campus. This year’s theme was “Indigenous Sustainability: Protecting Land, Water, Human and More than Human Kinships.” The tree planting was the final event of the celebration, which spanned four days, Oct. 10-12 and 14.
Stan State is located on Yokuts land, and the Nototomne is a band of the Yokuts. Two oak trees were planted to honor the Yokuts nation this year, and President Junn announced that Stan State will acknowledge Indigenous Peoples Day annually.
“Indigenous Peoples Day is a holiday that is celebrated to commemorate Indigenous peoples, issues and culture, and it is celebrated in place of Columbus Day,” Moreno Sandoval said.
The celebration kicked off with a talk about the book “There’s Something in the Water,” by Ingrid R. G. Waldron. In the book, Waldron describes how environmental racism affects the health of Indigenous and Black communities.
The book talk was followed by two evening events that featured an opening blessing by the Indigenous Students in Activism club and an eagle dance by Stan State first-year student Auzyee Padama.
“I’ve been dancing since I was in sixth grade,” Padama said. “My involvement and love for dancing was inspired by one of my teachers. His classroom was dedicated to Native Americans, and he taught students about Native American culture. He talked about how important it is to keep the culture alive, and I don’t want to let it die.”
A panel of Indigenous guest speakers spoke on topics including how to protect Indigenous lands and culture and the importance of ancestral foodways and economic sustainability. There were also performances by the Hummingbird Singers, Stan State students singing and playing the jarana (an eight-string instrument) and a set from Indigenous hip hop artist Supaman.
“The Indigenous Peoples Day celebration was an educational and inspirational event,” said Associated Students, Inc. director of sustainability and Stan State student Cynella Aghasi. “My favorite part was learning about Indigenous foods with regard to Indigenous farming and sustainability. By the end of the event, I was motivated to do my own research to better recognize and respect Indigenous peoples and their culture.”
The events were followed by a community garden cleanup of the BioAg Garden, which gave students an opportunity to connect with nature and learn about ancestral plant knowledge, agriculture and food conservation. Moreno Sandoval explained that connecting with nature is also vital to connect with one’s ancestry.
“We hope that people will be inspired to connect to their ancestral knowledge systems from all over the world, which are our earth-based systems,” Moreno Sandoval said. “If we connect with the land, with homelands and with the earth, then we can begin to understand that we need to protect humans and land and water. It all starts with Indigenous sustainability, with Indigenous sovereignty.”
For those who could not attend the event, Moreno Sandoval says there are myriad ways to celebrate.
“Be curious and ask questions,” Moreno Sandoval said. “Indigenous Peoples Days is really important to recognize because re-Indigenizing education is the future, a promise for the future. If we can respect Indigenous rights and human rights of the Nations that take care of 80 percent of the biodiversity of the world, we have a chance of surviving as a human species.”
Jasmine Diaz, an officer of the Indigenous Students in Activism club, sees Stan State’s third Indigenous Peoples Day event as an overall success.
“We’re growing like a tree and getting new branches and leaves,” Diaz said. “It feels like every year, the event gets better. This may be our third annual Indigenous Peoples Day, but I hope to see it grow and stand strong like a tree with deep roots.”