Tribal Elders bless the opening of American Indians in Texas gallery


Aaron Berecka

Erwin De Luna, President of United San Antonio Pow Wow, speaks to the crowd at the blessing of the American Indians in Texas gallery on Wednesday afternoon. 

Niq Velez

Elders from 12 different Native American tribes traveled to UT to bless the opening of the American Indians in Texas gallery at Jester Center on Wednesday. 

Lee Walters, Blackfeet tribe elder and associate director at the Division of Housing and Food Service, said the gallery provides an account of the tumultuous 12,000 year history of Native American tribes in Texas.

“We are here to cleanse all the negativity, so this endeavor is blessed for good things,” Walters said.

After the blessing ceremony, tribal elders in full regalia led a powwow in J2 while students sampled dishes from the pre-Colombian menu of indigenous Texans.

Robert Mayberry, executive chef at J2, said that food is integral to culture of a region and traditional ingredients are the flavor.

“The food that you grow up with is intrinsically intertwined with people and landscape,” Mayberry said. “The plants and animals of the surrounding environment were brought to the kitchen, and then families gathered around the hearth fire to eat a meal together.”

Walters said Native American students who come from reservations experience culture shock.

“A lot of native youth feel homesick, so you have to build a community where they feel welcome,” Walters said.

Walters said life on the reservation is difficult, but Native American students have the opportunity to improve conditions.

“We’re starting to see a lot more American Indians come into higher education to get graduate’s degrees and then bringing this knowledge back to the reservation,” Walters said.

Jim Cox, professor of English and associate director of Native American and Indigenous studies, said Native American literature sheds light on issues that do not receive their due recognition.

“In general terms, the predicament of the reservations is misunderstood and neglected because when you talk about Native Americans, you have to talk about unpleasant parts of American history,” Cox said. “There’s an unwillingness to face many of these episodes.”

Cox said these works place an equal emphasis on the horrors that have been overcome as well as hope for an improved future and attest to a people's capability to survive.

 "Land loss, military defeat, alcoholism, poverty and racism still define the experience of many Native American authors, but their literature maintains a spirit of endurance," Cox said.

Floyd Hoelting, executive director of DHFS, said the gallery is part of an initiative to build a culturally inclusive environment.

“A lot of our students have never seen a powwow, never seen celebration drumming,” Hoelting said. “It piques interest in other cultures.” 

Clarification: The article about the native americanAmerican Indians in Texas gallery at Jester Center" in the Oct. 31 issue of The Daily Texan has been clarified. Professor Jim Cox said, "Land loss, military defeat, alcoholism, poverty and racism still define the experience of many Native American authors, but their literature maintains a spirit of endurance." This clarification was run in the Nov. 4 issue of The Daily Texan.