Native Resource Center hosts celebration for California Native American Day

Students participate in games, enjoy food and build community to celebrate California Native American Day

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Natali Gonzalez

Riley Widner, senior, takes her turn in Pushook, a traditional Kumeyaay game, at the Native Resource Center’s California Native American Day celebration.

by Natali Gonzalez , Staff Writer

The Native Resource Center held a celebration on Friday, Sept. 23, in honor of California’s 55th Native American Day.

This holiday promotes appreciation and acknowledgement of the tribal nations within California. It aims to celebrate Native culture and heritage as well as honor Indigenous people’s triumphs and struggles. 

“The reality is that we celebrate ourselves every day,” said Mateo Gin Tarango, the assistant coordinator of the Native Resource Center. “This is just one day to highlight that on a bigger platform.”

The theme of this year’s California Native American Day was “Stand Strong Together,” which the students in attendance felt passionate about. 

“It’s really important to be able to connect with other students, especially Native students, just because the community is so small,” said Junior Vanessa Hernandez, a psychology major. “The more [people] we can get to come together, the more we can strengthen our community.”

Hernandez added that a desire to become a more integral part of her community and give back to it is what led her  to become a mentor to other Native students.

Aiyiana Tiger, a senior studying sociology, agreed and said many students feel isolated, especially when they’re not equally represented.

“Having a place where students can relate to other students, a place where they can connect and really embrace culture and traditions, is important,” Tiger said. “It makes them feel like they belong here.”

Attendees of the event took part in games while they enjoyed  snacks and music. “Pushook,” a traditional Kumeyaay game, was one of the main activities of the celebration. 

Students sat in a circle and dropped “dice” (hand-painted sticks with a rounded edge) onto a table called the striking surface. Before they dropped their “dice,” students chanted “ehink, hewak, hemuck,” counting to three in the Kumeyaay language. The dice that landed face up earned players a “polito,” which is a playing stick. Once all politos were distributed, players stole from the person on their left until only one had politos and became the winner. The “coy-me”, or the referee, explained that the game was originally designed to teach numbers. As students set up games around the room, they became competitive and excited while learning the Kumeyaay language, cheering when others landed a “chepap,” or perfect score of four, and laughed as they stole each other’s politios. 

Students play Pushook, a traditional Kumeyaay game, and Jenga at the Native Resource Center’s California Native American Day celebration (Natali Gonzalez)

Other students played Jenga and Slingpuck, giving them the opportunity to meet new people as well. 

“It’s really significant to have Indigenous folks together as a family, as a community, playing games and having food together…it’s so fun, it’s amazing,” said Paul Aguirre, a student and the Native Resource Center program assistant. “It’s just like being a really big family.”

Participants also encouraged others to join in the community year-round, not just on California Native American Day. Students can use the Native Resource Center to study, spend time with friends, speak to advisors, get support with financial aid, do art and smudge themselves. 

One event several students and staff referenced was the Talking Circles that take place at the center.

 “We do artwork and answer discussion questions,” Tiger explained. “It’s a good way to connect with other people and also to relate.”

“There’s a specific topic each month,” Hernandez added. “It’s so fun and it’s really powerful. It’s just like an outlet.”

Talking Circles take place once a month, but the Native Resource Center, located in West Commons 115, is open daily for student use from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.