UM welcomes Native American community

Last Tuesday, the UC patio was center stage for Native American Day. The University hosted guests, including high school students, from tribes all over the country to spend a day on campus. The cultural show was marked by colorful, traditional costumes, music and storytelling.

UM President Donna Shalala opened the program. She welcomed the Native American community to campus and encouraged the visiting students to finish high school and consider applying to UM.

One of the guest students on campus was JoJo Dakota Osceola, 17, from Davie, Fla. Chosen as Miss Seminole 2004-2005, her role is to travel around the country and make people aware of Native American culture, especially of the Seminole tribe.

“It’s amazing that the University took an interest in this,” Osceola said. “Ignorance hurts, and it’s important to make people aware of the culture.”

The Red Feather Dance Company told stories through Native American dances. The show also included a presentation by Storyteller, as well as an open mic poetry event.

Table stands with Native American handcrafts, ceramics and hand-made jewelry adorned the patio.

Mario Matus Villa, a UM graduate student in creative writing who is of Apache descent, displayed Navajo crafts from the Lowe Art Museum Teaching Collection.

“We are hoping to spark people’s interest in the culture,” Matus Villa said. “It’s sad that we do not have a Native American student association, considering the Miccosukee base here.”

Guests were treated to a campus tour, a visit to the Lowe Art Museum and an optional tour of Hecht Athletic Center to watch a Hurricane football practice.

“It’s a very nice and real experience,” Victoria Hernandez, a student from Ahfachkee High School, said. “There are not a lot of colleges that reach out to us. I really want to come here.”

The Native American Cultural Show is part of the effort by the University to recruit more Native American students. Currently there is no Native American student association, and only 16 Native American students are officially enrolled at UM.

“Native American students are the minority of the minority,” Nikki Chun, admission counselor at the Office of Admissions, said. “Hopefully the cultural show will encourage the students to create an association of Native American students, since there isn’t one.”

According to Chun, the staff at the Office of Admissions recruits students of all ethnicities, but they reach out to those communities whose students may not look past high school.

“We are recruiters – we reach out to communities,” Chun said. “The University reached out to native Hawaiian students in the past, which is one of the reasons I am here. We are trying to model this after that effort.”

The staff works with high school students to help them with the application and essay-writing process. They’ve also reached out to Native American high schools to give students an opportunity to explore the facilities on campus and majors that the school has to offer.

“I greatly encourage this school to continue trying to reach out and encourage Native American students,” Johann Lewis, freshman, said. “It’s hard for any race to feel uncomfortable when there is a good mix of people from different ethnicities.”

Vanessa Krause can be contacted at