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July 16, 2010 > Native American Studies settles into new home

Native American Studies settles into new home

By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By William Mancebo

The beauty and awe of a traditional Native American ceremony was evident in the early morning hours of July 10, when the community gathered to consecrate the Native American Studies Program's (NASP's) new home at the Fremont Adult School.

Earlier, over 50 people assembled at 5 a.m. to participate in a "Walk of New Beginnings," commencing at Irvington High School, which had housed the NASP program for the past 15 years, to its new location at Fremont Adult School. As the walkers made their way along Calaveras Avenue and approached their destination, they were greeted and joined by others who had been awaiting their arrival.

Six kids and four adults from the Native American community had slept overnight in teepees on the grounds of the Fremont Adult School awaiting the day's festivities.

Upon entering, sage was lit and wafted through the air to bless the new location, in a process known as "smudging" (a ceremonial cleansing smoke).

Pablo Viramontes, a member of the Otomi tribe, began with the greeting, "Thank Mother Earth for letting us walk on her skin."

A "Blessing Ceremony" welcomed visitors to the site and the NASP suite which had been converted from three vacant classrooms at the school facility. Funding for the construction came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds (ARRA)."

This day was the culmination of many efforts begun fifteen years ago to incorporate Native American artifacts into Fremont's culture and historical preservation. The main focus will be on the museum, which will house these rare items from various cultures of Native American tribes. Additionally, there will be space for classes, meetings, and a tutoring area for at-risk students of Native American descent.

Artifacts will be moved into the remodeled rooms during the next few weeks.

Lorraine Brendel, an Alaskan Inuit Native expressed her feelings about the day, "The purpose of the ceremonial walk is to put the bad energy behind us and move forward in a more positive manner, educating people about our program. We are now able to educate Native American kids and be more open to the community. This gives us a new direction, a new chapter."

"It fills my heart with joy to welcome you to my school. Here your program will grow and prosper," said Principal of the Fremont Adult School, Steve Giudici.

Next, in a symbolic gesture, Giudici rang a bell and unlocked the school's iron gate while Randall Martin of the Apache tribe responded, "We hear the bell and are coming to school."

Fremont School Superintendent, James Morris commented, "This is a wonderful opportunity for young people. I was touched and honored to walk with you this morning. Fremont is a community that celebrates and respects diversity. The NASP program will be an honored part of our community for many years to come."

Rogelio Santillan of the Curly Clan of the Navajo nation has been involved with NASP for over a decade and helped with the new design of the museum. Santillan handed out traditional gifts of thanks to those who helped make this day a reality. "It's important to give away; you'll receive much more in return," he explained.

One of the coordinators of the NASP program, Tammy Lopez and her husband Michael enjoyed participating in the festivities as well. They introduced the group "Drum and Feathers" who chanted and drummed songs to honor their ancestors and celebrate the program's new home.

"This is a great central location that is open and can be used by more and more students of all heritages," added President of the Fremont School Board, Lara York. "The Adult School is a much more appropriate place for the program, where the artifacts can be displayed more respectfully in the museum. Thank you for including us in this ceremony."

Native American Studies Program: (510) 659-1092
Fremont Unified School District: (510) 979-7700 or www.fremont.k12.ca.us

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