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New Group to Help Raise Profile of SDSU in Indian Communities

For the better part of four decades, an annual powwow celebrating American Indian culture had been held at SDSU.  Participants would come from near and far to share their traditions and honor their heritage through dances, stories, and songs.

Powwow
Dancers at Memorial Day powwow.  (photo by Cynthia Torres).
Until last year.

“They skipped a year last year because the student club was too small,” explains Preston Chipps (’78), SDSU Career Services counselor and advisor to the Native American Student Alliance. “That’s when the community started saying, ‘Hey, what happened?’”

What happened, according to Chipps, was that the small student organization faced difficulty marshalling the necessary resources to organize a powwow.  The students asked Chipps to reach out to the community on their behalf, designating him as alumni relations coordinator.  He immediately began gauging interest in forming an alumni chapter.   

“Over the course of about a month or two, we rounded up people who had serious interest in being committed to the alumni chapter,” recalls Chipps, “and that was our core group of officers.”

With sufficient interest having been demonstrated in forming a chapter, the SDSU Alumni Association Board of Directors last month voted to approve the new American Indian Alumni Chapter.  Officers include President Pierre Romero (’97), Vice President Cynthia Torres (’99), Secretary Jennifer Gastelum (’82), and Treasurer Thomas Wilson (’06).

THE BIG EVENT

Under its official designation, the group held its first meeting earlier this month.  One of the first orders of business was planning for next year’s powwow.

“That’s the big event that everything else kind of circulates around and it takes a year to plan it,” Chipps explains. “It’s a real friendly gathering where everybody can get back in touch with one another and enjoy each other’s cultures - they’re usually intertribal.”

After skipping last year, this year’s powwow was held on Memorial Day.  Chipps says the events are critical to raising the university’s profile in the American Indian community.

“All the major institutions have them,” he says. “The biggest ones that everybody always talks about are Stanford and UCLA and we want to compete at that level.    

Powwow
Memorial Day powwow participants at SDSU (photo by Cynthia Torres).
“We want to be seen as an institution that is Indian-friendly, holds cultural events, and honors and respects the traditions that American Indians have practiced for tens of thousands of years in this country.  So, just maintaining tradition and having San Diego State associated with Indian friendliness is really important.”

INTERGENERATIONAL EFFORT

Chipps says that between the student organization and the new alumni chapter, a main goal is to increase awareness of SDSU in San Diego’s American Indian community.

“It’s kind of an intergenerational effort,” he explains. “We’re trying to keep the interest of local kids in going to college here, grow the student club and, therefore, the Alumni Association.”

Chipps believes the timing of the new chapter, combined with other campus developments, creates an opportunity for the university.

“With the American Indian Studies Department just getting its major approved last year and Viejas having the naming rights to the arena,” he observes, “it looks like there are a lot of factors emerging simultaneously to support more friendliness in terms of the culture and making San Diego State more of a positive experience in the Indian community.”

The American Indian Alumni Chapter is now recruiting new members.  For more information, visit the chapter’s Web site.