By Eduardo Martin Sanchez
A Land Acknowledgement event held by the East Los Angeles College Theater Department, with an Indigenous theater group at the event, recognized the college was built on Indigenous land.
DeLanna Studi said East Los Angeles College students can help increase awareness of Indigenous art and Indigenous equity at ELAC.
Studi is the artistic director of Native Voices, a theater group, at the Autry.
The Theater Department invited Studi as part of their Mentor Month and Studi was also invited for the Land Acknowledgement the school held.
Studi’s story helped those present better understand how to be welcoming to Indigenous students.
“As an educational institution, we recognize our responsibility to highlight Indigenous histories and advocate for practices, policies and actions that bring justice for past, present and emerging native communities,” Julie Bernard, professor in the Anthropology, Geography and Geology department, said. This was read from the Native Acknowledgement Dialogue.
The ELAC Theater Department hopes to change the low number of Native students enrolled. Bernard said, as of fall 2021, Natives make up 0.14 percent of the district and 0.18 percent of ELAC students.
Vanessa Pellegrini, professor from the Theater Department, said she reached out to Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America to create a partnership in the hopes of increasing the number of Indigenous students at ELAC.
The preparatory school is a K-12 school that helps with education as well as keeping Native communities thriving.
“We are here with open hearts, open minds and know that land acknowledgment is not the goal or the ending, it is a beginning and it is a call to action,” Pellegrini said.
Studi said that for over 50 years, tribes had been fighting to get rid of the Washington Redskins’ team name. It wasn’t until the Black Lives Matter movement called out the racism behind it that change was made.
“We are so much stronger when we are together,” she said. Studi said students can help make a difference by being a part of movements.
“Learn as much as you can, find out how you can be of service, and show up… It’s not speaking for the person but it’s nice to know you have your back up,” Studi said.
Studi’s kindergarten teacher told her she was required to teach that Indigenous peoples were extinct.
Studi and her family are from the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Decades later at a college meeting discussing low numbers of Asian and Native students at the college, the school did not bother to find actual numerical percentages for Native students.
This erasure is something Studi hopes to change through her work in Native Voices.
Studi said she hopes to make Native students feel welcome and to tell them that their culture is valued.
“Native Voices is the only equity theatre in the country that is devoted to producing and developing indigenous plays,” she said.
Studi said in Indigenous culture storytelling is medicine and is seen as an act of healing.
She said Native people turned towards the artists for comfort at the start of the pandemic.
It was because of the pandemic that Indigenous people were finally able to get internet access in many areas.
Studi said during the first year of the pandemic the number of elder speakers that the Cherokee Nation lost due to the virus was near the thousands.
Receiving internet access allowed for various improvements beyond safety..
“It (the use of the internet) was to keep our elders safe, so that our students can have virtual schooling. Because we know that when we lose an elder we don’t just lose a loved one. We lose language. We lose culture. We lose ceremony. Because in a lot of our cases–if we can’t do the ceremony in the language, you shouldn’t be doing the ceremony,” Studi said.
It not only allowed lectures to go virtual but gave the families of those in Native Voices the chance to finally see the plays their children were a part of.
“Acknowledging the people that are still here is a step in the right direction,” Studi says. She advises students to learn as much as they can about issues and address them.