Clifton Pembleton, NAAC Chair
With an estimated twenty-five Native Americans at IUP and no organization to promote awareness of this small community, one student decided that something had to be done.
In 2006, Jennifer Soliday wrote a letter to President Tony Atwater, suggesting that November be designated as American Indian Heritage month on campus.
The Council of Trustees approved Soliday’s request, sparking the creation of what is now referred to as the IUP Native American Awareness Council (NAAC). Chaired by Clifton Pembleton, a full-blooded Tuscarora Native American and IUP employee, and cochaired by Sarah Neusius, this growing organization is made up of faculty, students, and staff dedicated to raising awareness of Native American heritage and culture through campus and community events.
The NAAC’s list of goals also includes creating a Native American Studies program at IUP and recruiting Native American students through a cultural exchange program.
Drums of Native Sisters, Third Annual IUP Native American Festival
As chair of the NAAC, Pembleton gives presentations promoting awareness of his culture to grade school and college students. During the question-and-answer period of these presentations, Pembleton has had an opportunity to hear some of the perceptions that non-Native people have. Students often admit that they were not aware that Native Americans are present: they are perceived as almost a “lost people,” Pembleton said in an interview. “They have no concept of reservations, they have no concept of a separate language, and they are baffled to find out that we have sovereign rights. It’s kind of strange to find out that we are essentially perceived as not being here.”
But since the beginning of the NAAC, Pembleton and the other members have put much effort into reversing these perceptions by organizing and hosting events on campus.
The council held their first event, the IUP Native American Festival, in November 2007, featuring Native American entertainment, arts and crafts, and food. The third annual Native American Festival in November 2009 featured the Allegany River Indian Dancers, a troupe of thirteen dancers of all ages; and the Drums of Native Sisters, six women who sang both traditional and contemporary songs of their people while playing a large drum that sat in the center of their group. The NAAC also brought in vendors who sold Native American jewelry and other goods as well as three food vendors, one of which made and sold his specialty: buffalo burgers.
Mural displayed in the Tuscarora Indian School, Lewiston, N.Y.
Other events hosted by the NAAC were a film festival in November 2007, a trip to the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington, D.C., a year later, and a performance by award-winning Cherokee contemporary recording artist Michael Jacobs in March 2010.
Another monumental step in the NAAC’s history began in summer 2009 when the council collaborated with the Department of Professional Studies in Education and a production team from the IUP Communications Media Department to begin a yearlong project. The team collected a pool of resources—interviews, photos, video footage, etc.—in order to develop products that would heighten the level of Native American awareness at IUP and in the Indiana community. This production team consisted primarily of Richard Lamberski, professor of Communications Media, and Sara Lamberson, Communications Media minor and at that time special projects assistant to Lamberski.
Many other students and faculty members were involved in different aspects of the project, from shooting and editing video to graphic design and printing. From just one pool of material, about ten different products were created in order to keep the mission of the NAAC alive throughout the coming years.
A teenage boy in fancy, feather-style dress, Twelfth Annual Pow Wow, Tipton, Pa.
The production team members shot video footage and still photos of several Native American events and sites in order to build a large collection of sources. First they traveled to the Tuscarora Reservation in Lewiston, N.Y., and taped interviews at the Tuscarora Indian School and photographed artwork at the Native American Museum of Art and other scenes on the reservation, capturing the essence of modern Native American culture.
The team then ventured to Tipton, Pa., to shoot the twelfth annual Pow Wow, a celebratory event filled with Native American dancing, music, and food, reminiscent of the celebrants’ ancestors. Last, they gathered footage from the third annual IUP Native American Festival and were able to get interviews with two Native American performers as well as footage of dancing, singing, and drumming. Hours of footage and hundreds of photos were then used to create such products as videos, brochures, presentations, publications, essays, and more.
Perhaps the largest and most time-consuming product that came out of the Native American initiative was a video featuring an interview of Pembleton by Lamberski titled We Have Survived: A Native American Perspective in the 21st Century. The interview questions were derived from a class of non-Native students, asking anything they did not know about Native culture.
In the fifty-minute educational film, Pembleton speaks about the thriving culture of Native Americans today and discusses his perspective on subjects such as the history of his people, Native American art, language, values and beliefs, and the structure of Native tribes. Also incorporated into the film are video clips, interviews with other Native American people, photos, maps, and diagrams to better exemplify the modern outlook on Native America. This video has been shown on IUP-TV several times and can continue to be a resource for both Native and non-Native people for years to come.
Photo presented to IUP as cultural trust from the NAAC
The NAAC and the IUP Department of Professional Studies in Education also strive to create a strong and lasting partnership with the Tuscarora Indian School in Lewiston, N.Y., by sending IUP students there to complete their student teaching requirements. As part of this initiative, the production team produced a student teaching recruitment video and supplemental brochure called “Becoming a Student Teacher for the Tuscarora Reservation in New York.” The video focuses on the culturally diverse student teaching opportunity at the school and includes insight from the principal and a language and culture teacher. The NAAC hopes that this marketing package will make students want to do their student teaching at the school.
In addition to the videos, the NAAC and Communications Media production team also had a photo essay featuring photos from the Pow Wow in Tipton accepted for the fall 2010 issue of the Journal of Communications Media Studies. One of these photos was also enlarged and custom framed to be presented to IUP as a cultural trust from the NAAC.
Dancers make their way onto campus at the first annual IUP Native American Festival. Copyright © Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2010, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
After the completion of these projects, the team had one more task: to empower the NAAC so that its members could continue to use these products far into the future. Given all of the media resources, a PowerPoint presentation made up of about fifty slides was created for Pembleton to use as a more up-to-date way of making presentations at schools, universities, and the greater community. Most of these products are timeless and can be used to continue educating non-Native people about a culture that is widely misunderstood or simply just forgotten.
The title of this article, “We Have Survived,” was a quote taken by a few of the interviewees while collecting footage, and it has proved to be a very poignant statement throughout the entire initiative process. But what will happen to the future Native Americans? Growing up on the Tuscarora Reservation and experiencing modern Pow Wows and other Native American ceremonies, Pembleton is able to put his life experiences and vision of the future into perspective: “The sound of the drums, the dance, the children’s eyes, the deportment of the adults; I think all of these things portray our view of the future, and I think that we will continue to persevere and survive.”
Community members interested in joining the NAAC or participating in any of the events are urged to contact Pembleton at Clifton.Pembleton@iup.edu.