SDSU Native American Club serves dual role


Jana L. Haas

The University Lutheran Center common room began to fill as guests entered, stomped snow off their boots and shed their heavy coats. The smell of steaming hot buffalo chili lingered in the air as conversation and laughter erupted from around the small table.

The group conversed as if they were all old friends. Their eyes lit up and their faces were aglow as they filled their Styrofoam bowls with chili, chips and cheese. Students, faculty members and their families caught up on the week’s happenings as they picked up helpings of homemade fry bread and chocolate brownies and returned to the table.

“So what do we have to talk about tonight?” Tasi Livermont said as she glanced around the table, holding her son, Miles, squirming in her lap. “Is there any old or new business?”

“Well, the taco sale went really well,” Ross DuBray said. “We had a good turnout, but we should probably bring more meat next time. We probably sold more than 175 tacos that day, but it was starting to get late, so we packed up.”

Others nodded in agreement as the South Dakota State University Native American Club meeting got underway.

The buffalo chili meal is just one of many events sponsored by the Native American Club. The club, which started at SDSU in the 1970s, helps Native American students enhance their experience at SDSU while sharing culture and fellowship with the university.

“We serve a dual role, one for Native Americans themselves, and one for the university,” said Valerian Three Irons, Diversity and Service Learning associate at SDSU.

Three Irons, who also serves as the Native American Club advisor, provides advice and mentoring to the club’s student members.

“Our club is like many clubs and organizations. Eighty percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people,” Three Irons said. “We often just have a very informal atmosphere and meeting style.”

Five to eight members usually attend regular club meetings, while larger events such as the powwow can draw up to 15. The formal club meets each week to organize and discuss club- and SDSU-orientated events.

The club holds fundraisers throughout the year, such as Indian taco sales in the student union, to help students with travel and educational expenses and to sponsor the club’s events.The club also sponsors social events for members such as the buffalo chili feed, fun nights, Christmas and Halloween parties, buffalo hunts and spring trips.

SDSU-orientated events include spring and fall picnics, the Hobo Day parade, a spring banquet and a pow-wow.

Ross DuBray, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has been involved with the Native American Club for all the years he’s spent as a student on the SDSU campus. In fact, his father was one of the group’s founding members.

DuBray first came to the campus and the organization as a freshman in 1994, but did not complete his degree at that time. When he returned as a non-traditional student in 2000, he joined the Native American Club again.

As past secretary/treasurer, he says he’s been more involved with it this time around.

That involvement includes a unique opportunity bestowed on DuBray this past October. He was the club member chosen to shoot a buffalo on the Lower Brule reservation that would provide the meat for the group’s annual powwow and other events throughout the school year.

“It was special,” DuBray said of the experience. “It was a wonderful gift to be able to have access to. It was special because we were putting it to good use.”

In Native American culture, having a purpose for the slaughter of an animal is very important as a means of showing respect for the Earth’s living creatures. Wanton killing is both disrespectful and dishonorable.

DuBray said that in his tribe’s tradition, “Nothing was ever killed without a purpose, without a reason.”

The buffalo hunt, conducted with the assistance of the Lower Brule Game, Fish & Parks Department, will provide meat for the annual powwow.

A member of the club had submitted a request to harvest the lone bull buffalo, and it was granted earlier this year.

DuBray and four other Native American men took part in the hunt, and women from the club will prepare the hide and other items from the buffalo in traditional Native American ways.

One thing DuBray took away from his hunting expedition with fellow club members is the same thing he takes away from his involvement with many Native American Club activities: a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

“It’s a great opportunity to make some lasting friends,” he said of the club. “A lot of the programs that we have been involved with have brought us in touch with a lot of people.”

Those people range from members of different tribes from across the United States to important people right on the SDSU campus.

Through participation in a variety of events, including the Success Academy program aimed at bringing more Native American students to college campuses, the Native American Club has fostered relationships with countless professors, department heads, deans and even President Peggy Gordon Miller.

In all, DuBray said the goal of the Native American Club is to provide somewhere for students to go and be comfortable with their surroundings, especially as they begin a college career in an atmosphere that’s very different from the reservation life they’re familiar with.