“I feel underrepresented,” said current junior Native American Student Organization president Niko Freeman. Â “That’s why we have NASO.”
Many students do not know the University of Rhode Island has a club dedicated to Native Americans, and its members are aiming to to improve their visibility.
URI’s Native American Student Organization is focused on creating native cultural awareness on campus. Â First recognized by the Student Senate just last year, NASO is working on building their numbers and gaining the awareness from students.
Freeman said he wants members of the URI community to be more aware of Native American culture. “Just like any other organization, people want their voice heard,” he said.
While it may be a small organization, Freeman said approximately seven Native American tribes are represented, along with a number of students who are native descendants from other parts of the world such as Asia and the Pacific Islands. Â Among the North American tribes represented in NASO are the Pequot tribe of the Connecticut area, the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts, and the Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island, which Freeman belongs to.
Many members of NASO are heavily involved in their tribe’s culture and traditions. Â Freshman John Brown, like Freeman, is a member of the Narragansett tribe. Â Brown is a direct descendent of the medicine family of the tribe. Â The name for this family is derived from the native word “pauwau,” which translates to “they who dream.” Â These, Brown said, are the spiritual leaders of the tribe that retain the traditions and history of the tribe.
Brown’s father, John Brown III, is the current medicine man for the Narragansett tribe. Â Brown said he is now learning the ways of the medicine man from his father. Â This includes ceremonial fire building before pow wows, and having knowledge necessary to carry out ceremonies. Â Brown also performs traditional dances, though not for competition. Brown does ceremonial dances that are done at the start of an event such as a pow wow. Â “Dancing is a form of prayer that is sent to the greater beings around us,” he said.
In addition to his involvement with his tribe’s traditions, Brown also serves as a field specialist for the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office, or NITHPO. Â “We do assessment and reconnaissance of historical sites that may be impacted by development,” Brown said. Â In other words, they look at potential building sites to ensure any native artifacts or burial remains won’t be disturbed.
Brown, Freeman and other members of NASO are currently planning events for the coming months, including their “Night of Traditions,” to be held in November in conjunction with Native American Heritage Month. Â In the meantime, the members of NASO are working to get their group bigger and stronger, and working toward their goal of greater awareness on campus.