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NASO engages college community in cultural comeback

By Samantha Wulff
On April 24, 2013


The Native American Student Organization explored oral history, cultural identity and other
topics in a speaker series entitled "Finding Our Community," held from April 15-19.
"Finding Our Community" is the first speaker series NASO has presented, and is symbolic of
their comeback. NASO became unrecognized by USG in 2011 and disbanded, making cultural
unity a difficult goal to achieve. It took a year to get back up and running.
NASO president Brandon VanEvery can trace back his first encounters with some of the current
speakers to Buffalo State events he attended as a youth. His parents thought it was important for
him to be knowledge of his culture, and it just so happened that Buffalo State had an established
Native American community. With this series, he wanted to turn the campus back into the place
of acceptance and culture that he remembered as a child.
"It's like an iconic picture; I see Buff State and I see Native American acceptance," VanEvery
Each day marked a different speaker with a unique story.
"They're all telling a type of story, whether it's personal, a fable, their view of Native American
literature, or history," VanEvery said.
Buffalo State graduate student and NASO Native American assistant Lafayette Williams started
the week off with a personal narrative. He came from a troubling past of gang involvement,
but has come far and is accomplishing his goals. His story of struggle and eventual triumph
illustrated that life is what you make of it.
Timothy Ecklund, assistant vice president of student life, spoke about his book "Beyond the
Asterisks." He explained that there are inaccurate Native Americans statistics out there, and that
American society tends to place limits on Native Americans.
Native American literature professor Tim Bryant discussed the cultural work of contemporary
American Indian literature. He addressed various strategies and challenges for cultural
identification and resistance in the work of recent Native American authors.
Charles Bachman, another Native American literature professor, told Native American stories.
His conversational style and expressions kept the audience engaged. Each story had a moral and
spoke to traditional values.
Anthropology chair and associate professor Dr. Lisa Anselmi explored Native American history
from an anthropological standpoint.
Native American culture places high value on family and community. The emphasis of working
in and for one's community stands in bold contrast to the focus on self that is often seen in
modern American culture. Events such as the speaker series serve as a reminder to preserve
traditional values in an ever-changing world.
NASO's influence extends from campus and into the community. Members of surrounding
Native American cultures look to our campus for acceptance and education, just as a young
VanEvery did.
In a culture that values oral tradition, storytelling is ubiquitous. During Dr. Bachman's
presentation, he sustained interest through humor. Utilizing humor keeps audience members
engaged and makes a story "stick." There is also an educational side to the tales.
"These stories were told to children, they had morals, but they had to habituate them," Dr.
Bachman said.
According to NASO's Bengal Connect profile, its key purpose is to build unity amongst
themselves and educate all Buffalo State students on Native American concerns. NASO stresses
that the organization is not exclusive to Native Americans. "Finding Our Community" was as
much an effort to educate as well as recruit those from other cultures.
NASO will continue their outreach effort with their Haudenosaunee Dance Class from 6-8 p.m.
Friday in Caudell Hall 315.
Although education and outreach are a never-ending process, VanEvery knows that the
foundations are there. The University at Buffalo has a strong Native American community, and
has decided to team up with NASO to organize a future event.
"We want to take this moment to realize we have our community here already," VanEvery said.
Samantha Wulff can be reached by email at

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