Native American association making comeback


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Theresa Heitz shuffled continually back and forth from the kitchen to the long, family-styled table sitting in the middle of the room.

The UI junior, obviously excited, had her hands full with dishes of traditional Native American food.

As the small dining room of the Latino Native American Cultural Center began to fill with people Thursday night, Heitz said she was eager to unveil the food brought by students for a potluck dinner celebrating Native American Heritage Month.

“I brought waryati, a dessert made with rye bread,” Heitz said. “It’s a traditional treat from the Sioux tribe.”

Heitz, a co-president of the UI American Indian Student Association, was one of almost 40 students who attended Thursday’s potluck dinner. Heitz said the association — which started in 1976 — puts together a potluck each week, but because the end of Native American Heritage Month coincided with Thanksgiving, they decided to make this week’s event more special.

“This is a fantastic way to celebrate our culture with food from the various tribes and reservations,” Heitz said.

Latino students joined with Native Americans in the meal, and two German exchange students arrived with cultural dishes of their own. Luisa Orticelli, the manager of the Latino Native American Cultural Center, said the bond among different ethnicities is the most rewarding aspect of the events.

“There is a strong tie in this center between Latinos and Native Americans,” Orticelli said. “The students do a great job of supporting each other and going to each other’s events. These guys are best friends, and there’s no who’s who of race.”

Heitz emphasized the importance of the cultural center in helping students adjust. She said many young Native Americans, who make up the smallest minority group on campus, at about 120 people, come from reservations in such far-off states as Arizona and New Mexico.

“You just don’t see a strong Native presence on the UI campus,” Heitz said.

Orriena Snyder, also co-president of the association, iterated the importance of having a “home away from home.” The UI sophomore said she basically grew up in the center.

“My parents were here from 1989-1998, and my mom would study here all the time when I was with her,” Snyder said. “As co-president of [the American Indian Association], I’m just giving back to an important part of my childhood.”

One of the ways Snyder is trying to do that is through organizing the Native American Powwow, a traditional cultural celebration that involves a dance competition and allows different tribes to gather together.

Snyder’s parents helped organize the original UI Powwow in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the 1980s, which was the largest student event on campus until Dance Marathon.

Starting in 2004, the event took a four-year hiatus before being resurrected at the IMU Main Lounge last year. The two-day event will be held at the Recreation Building this year during the second week of April.

“I want to help return the [American Indian Association] to its former glory,” Snyder said. “It’s important to help raise awareness that we have these minority groups on campus.”

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