Photo | Stella Stokes.
Photo | Stella Stokes.

Celebrating Culture and Success at the HSU Big Time


The HSU Big Time, presented by the Indian Tribal & Educational Personnel Program, is a social gathering with dancing and cultural sharing events. What makes this event unique from other gatherings, is that it takes advantage of the campus to use this event as an educational opportunity for the community. Vincent Feliz, Chumash Master of Ceremonies, explained the songs and prayers during the event and introduced the dance groups from the Santa Ynez Chumash to the Tolowa Nation in Del Norte County. Each dance group also said who they are and where they come from, then lists the songs they sing. Along with the dance demonstrations, there were many cultural sharing events outside the arena that featured men’s and women’s gambling, basket weaving, carving, and a children’s tour of the fish hatcheries.

Photo by Stella Stokes

Feliz began the Big Time with a prayer with Julian Lang, a local Karuk storyteller. Then Feliz sang a grounding song with Lyn Risling, a local Yurok/Karuk/Hupa artist.When Feliz introduced the first dancers, the Maidu tribe, he explained they were one of the first tribes ITEPP invited to dance. They invited more tribes to dance and incidentally, Feliz said they decided to bring other California tribes. Chairs surrounded the dance arena in the West Gym, and each dance demonstration brought in a bigger crowd.

After the Chumash singers finished, Feliz invited the ITEPP alumni and students who are graduating this year to the arena. He called out everyone by each name.

“People wonder how we treat our introvert Indians,” Feliz said to the crowd. “We call them out.”

A crowd of 30-40 people came, including some HSU faculty like Pimm Allen, who is one of the coordinators of the Big Time. They were met with a Chumash honoring song to thank them. Earlier that morning, ITEPP hosted an alumni breakfast to honor them.

Photo by Stella Stokes

Feliz emphasized the importance of  educated Indigenous people and the need for the Indigenous youth to succeed on a national and state level. On the HSU Fast Facts of the fall 2016 semester, there were a total of 89 students identifying as American Indian which makes up about one percent of the total student population. That population reflects the one percent of the national American Indian population in the U.S. at nearly three million citizens, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The ITEPP’s mission is, “to facilitate and promote academic success and self-efficacy for primarily Native American Indian students at Humboldt State University.”

Students in ITEPP like Bryce Baga and Adrian Romo would hang out at the Brero House, where ITEPP is located. They would study, talk to the advisors, or just hang out with other students. Baga also offers beading classes on his free time. He admits that being a double major in Native American Studies and Economics can be difficult.

“It’s two completely different ways of thinking,” Baga said. “In my NAS classes, it’s all about community and connection. But in Economics, it’s all about-”

“Supply and demand,” Romo said.

“Yeah,” Baga said. “Just make money.”

They were on the table to sell t-shirts to benefit ITEPP. There were more tables that featured non-profits and health programs from United Indian Health Services. The men’s gambling tournament was hosted by a newly founded non-profit called Ancestral Guard, whose goal is to teach Indigenous youth their culture. Founder Sammy Gensaw IV hopes to connect with Chile to fight for their water rights, just as the local tribes are fighting for water rights on the Klamath River. Having a student’s culture validated helps them succeed and help their communities, and the Big Time celebrates that.

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