Over a dozen La Verne community members gathered for storytelling and wisdom honoring Native American Heritage Month hosted by the Center for Multicultural Services on Monday at the Ludwick Center.
Trevor Thomson, a storyteller, singer and member of the Karuk Tribe, has been sharing stories at University of La Verne for the past four years of the 15 years the program has celebrated.
As everyone gathered on the ancestral land of the Tongva people, the ceremony began with burning sweetgrass to purify thoughts and the environment to eliminate bad or negative thoughts.
There is a time to tell stories Thomson explained, and this fall season is perfect for the telling.
Thomson laid out elk skins to set up, explaining the offerings and direction for the storytelling. Thomson emphasized his motivation for sharing his people’s stories. Native Americans narrate these tales for a variety of purposes, such as describing the people’s history, their origins, or the deeds of a certain hero.
“(It is) important to stay in communication with the creator and each other as well,” Thomson said. “I am an urban person and a Native so it is important to remember where I came from, the earth, and we belong to each other.”
Thomson thanked the creator for life, for the day and for technology. He explained that Natives think in circles and move in circles as a concept of always moving forward.
As Thomson set up his space, he shared his “medicines” with the community: sweetgrass, sage, California jade and abalone, all earth’s natural gifts. He showed them basket hats and a brown headpiece with multiple elk tips pointing out the top. In the east of the room was a jar of ceremonial tobacco as it treats a connection to the spirit world.
Thomson’s first story was an origin story of how Dutch and Native cultures combined, dating back to the 1850s in Northern California during the Gold Rush period.
“We all come from an indigenous background,” Thomson said.
Thomson began with a song from the Bird People Tribe, encouraging others to join in. He said that as a storyteller, it is important to tell it the way you first heard it. The stories that Thomson shared were about the earth and the sun, stars and daylight.
He also shared a story about the first people to be on earth, the spirit people, which centered on the relationship between people and dogs, or “man’s best friend.”
Thomson sang a song from the Bear Ceremony, one of the oldest traditions strengthening the community. With his drum as well as a song from the Northern California Rumsen Tribe.
Thomson explained the dangers and hardships that Native’s had to live in before the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. Before 1978, it was illegal to tell stories and perform ceremonies, and collect the essential medicine, so it was kept secret and hard to pass down their traditions.
“Who’s going to tell these stories when we are gone?” Thomson asked. “It is important to learn the truths people need to know.
Thomson hopes others are inspired to be their own storyteller. The perfect moment to tell stories is when people are gathered at night enjoying company and food, telling stories from the heart.
Sophomore business administration major Harry Barnfather said he felt a connection to the teaching.
“I resonated when he talked about the connection to the land,” Barnfather said.
After storytelling, Thomson invited those to participate in a smudging, an energy ritual for physical spaces, objects and people. The group formed a circle and Thomson led the group in song, while performing the smudging with burning sage and the eagle feather.
“It was calming and peaceful,” Matthew Lieu, sophomore business honors student said. “ I now want to share good stories and find good stories to tell people.”
Native American and Indigenous Heritage is celebrated all month in November, but events are
held throughout the year with the center for multicultural services.
Director of Multicultural Affairs Daniel Loera said he planned the event to “build Community gathering in the sacred space that is sacred to many.”
Sheridan Lambrook can be reached at email@example.com.