FNECC first Craft Night creates cultural experience for students


Dr. Sonya Atalay Ojiwe, Instructor at the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, talks with Marilyn Cleveland, an elder beading master from Cherokee and white mountain Apache during Craft Night on Thursday at Weatherly Hall. Sara Singh Buy Photos

Twenty FNECC members excitedly greeted one another, enjoyed a free dinner and listened to Native American music before starting the craft activity.

Dr. Brian Gilley, FNECC director and associate professor of anthropology, said he was very pleased to see the returning faces.

“Our goal is to put culture first and build a community from culture. That’s why we have Craft Night,” Gilley said.

Gilley said he has worked hard to make the cultural center in Weatherly Hall a welcoming environment where Native American students can feel at home and experience culture.

“We want a place where students can come catch a TV show between classes, eat lunch, feel at home and have a sense of community,” Gilley said.

The FNECC tries to reach out to any student looking to connect to his culture or learn more about Native American traditions.

“If you are from a reservation or community, you are going to come to Craft Night and recognize the smells, sounds, the interactions, the practices — but anyone who wants to come and learn respectively is welcome,” Gilley said. “The key element is, of course, respect.”

Students, IU community members and Bloomington community members that attended the Craft Night learned how to make customary shawls that would be used at a Pow Wow or celebration.

The program was led by Dr. Sonya Atalay, an assistant professor of anthropology and FNECC member.

“We are going to learn how to make a shawl tonight and learn about a Native American woman’s role in her family and in her community,” Atalay said to the Craft Night attendees.

She said she hopes to teach the group how to put together a whole Regalia — a traditional wardrobe — through her workshops.

“I’ve been trying to keep things moving, recruit students and teach traditions,” Atalay said in between practicing cultural chants with children attending the event.

She continued to share how much events like this mean to her.

“I just love being around these people. This is our IU family, and we can’t always go home and be at ceremonies, so having people around and having this community for me and my kids is something I always look forward to,” Atalay said.

The FNECC regularly has activities, bringing students together through culture and the arts.

Their educational events include speakers, movie nights and many workshops such as basket weaving, beading and other crafts.

Since about four years ago, FNECC has been able to reach out to students who want to experience Native American culture.

“I was looking for a native community where I could learn about my culture as a Native American in the Ojibway tribe, and I found it at FNECC,” said Nathen Steininger, a senior at IU who regularly attends FNECC events. “It is the sense of community that keeps me coming back. I fit in here, I feel like I belong here, and I feel connected to a part of my identity.”

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