AISA celebrates Native American Heritage Month with open house

Attendees of the American Indian Open House bundle sage using string on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in Northridge, Calif.

Quinn Alexander, Reporter

The smell of burning sage wafted from the Central American Studies and American Indian Studies Cultural Center as the American Indian Student Association held an open house on Nov. 1 to showcase their club and celebrate the start of National Native American Heritage Month.

Mark Villasenor, vice president of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, was invited to the open house by the AISA club to burn sage and cleanse the property of bad feelings, pain and spirits. Villasenor blessed the property and the 15 students in attendance by blowing smoke in all four cardinal directions along with the earth and sky.

The open house served as an official welcome for CSUN students and all Native Americans on campus. The club is a student-run organization officially chartered in 1969, and serves to supplement and promote the American Indian Studies Program. Current AISA President Alexandria Ybarra continues the club’s mission to spread cultural awareness and increase resources for Native Americans on campus.

Bundled sage sits neatly atop an American Indian Studies pamphlet at American Indian Open House on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Quinn Hettich)

“My goal at CSUN is to continue to uplift the Native voices on campus, but to also create a safe space for Native folks,” Ybarra said. “People find their people through animation clubs or music clubs. We just want to be the safe place for Indigenous folks and those who want to learn about the culture.”

The club hosts many events throughout the year, occasionally inviting guest speakers to talk about ways for Native Americans to feel welcomed and empowered in society. They are also working with CSUN’s American Indian Studies Program to put on the “37th Annual CSUN Powwow,” which will happen on Nov. 26.

At the open house, a table was set up for members to learn how to properly bundle sage and use it responsibly and respectfully. The herb is a sacred medicine in Native American culture, used for blessings and cleansings.

“We don’t sell blessings, we don’t sell sage, because if you do that, you’re not doing it in the way that it is meant to be done,” Villasenor said.

CSUN’s Central American Studies and American Indian Studies Cultural Center on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (Quinn Hettich)

The school is seeing the lowest-recorded number of students identifying as American Indian, according to an annual study conducted by CSUN Counts. For the fall of 2022, 28 students out of the recorded 36,000 identified as American Indian. This is the smallest ethnic group counted on campus, with Pacific Islanders being the second-lowest group at 51 students.

While AISA is currently a small club with few members, it is advocating for the creation of an American Indian Studies major. The CSUN College of Humanities has a minor in American Indian Studies, but Ybarra is working alongside the department to spread awareness and bring people into the program.

Jessica Gonzalez, the club’s newest member, learned about the student association through her AIS class and joined to learn more about her Native American heritage.

“Native culture is not dead,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really important that we acknowledge it just like Chicano culture or Black culture. That Native culture is still very much alive and well.”