Indigenous Students Alliance Opposes Native American Stereotypes

The Indigenous Students Alliance (ISA), the only 5C group that focuses on raising awareness of issues faced by students of Native American backgrounds at the Claremont Colleges, hosted its first public event Nov. 29. A meet and greet was held for students to learn about contemporary Native American issues. It featured drumming, a film screening and a discussion.

The ISA, which was founded this year, aims to promote native culture and respond to negative stereotypes of Native Americans. It also plans to start a mentor program with students at Sherman Indian High School in Riverside, a boarding school for students of indigenous descent.

“Ideally, we want to call for a Native American studies program and for more representation and visibility for both native students and issues,” said Mariah Tso SC ’14, president of the ISA. 

Tso is a Diné Navajo as well as a third-generation Scripps student.

“Upon arriving at Scripps my freshman year, I realized right away that my experience would be very different from my mom’s and my granny’s simply because I’m native,” Tso said. “It was really isolating for me because I didn’t feel like I had a lot of people to talk to about issues that would come up. If I had an organization to go to or a community that I felt I could go to, I think that would have made a big difference."

ISA member Charles Herman PO ’14 grew up in an Alaska town with a population of about 6,000 primarily Yup’ik people.

“Coming to Pomona made me realize that most people have little, if any, knowledge regarding indigenous issues,” Herman wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “Needless to say, I have always been attentive and aware of indigenous issues and view the Indigenous Student Alliance as a good way to advocate and participate as an ally to Native people.”

The ISA includes both students of indigenous backgrounds, like Tso, and non-indigenous allies, such as Herman and Joanmarie Del Vecchio PO ’15.

“We saw that there were built-in support networks for other types of student minorities: women, ethnic minorities, religious minorities. So we figured that the fact that this didn’t exist, we wanted to remedy that,” Del Vecchio said. “But then we also wanted to raise awareness of the fact that there are still contemporary Native American issues. They’re not something of the past like a lot of people tend to think. It’s a very modern issue, especially in Southern California.”

The ISA is planning an event for Dec. 13 called “Fry Bread and Funnies,” at which students will make fry bread, listen to Native American comedians and discuss the cultural and historical implications of the food. Tso said that the inclusion of fry bread, which dates back to the forced resettlement of Navajo Native Americans, both alludes to the U.S. government’s oppression of natives and celebrates native culture.

Del Vecchio said that the ISA's goals are especially important in light of recent growth in the Native American population.

“It’s going to be something that, as our country progresses toward more social progressive ideas, is going to come to the forefront," she said. "I think it’s been ignored by the mainstream media on campus. And I think it’s time to listen to the native voices.”