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Green River celebrates indigenous communities at First People’s Conference

Mayan dancer
Performing a traditional Mayan dance

Green River's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion partnered with the Office of Student Life and Muckleshoot Tribe to host the inaugural First People's Conference on April 26.

More than 300 people attended, including Green River students, Muckleshoot Canoe Family, Mt. Baker Middle School, Kent Meridian High School, the Evergreen State College, Peninsula College, and South Seattle Community College. Community leaders representing the Muckleshoot tribe, Samoa, Hawaii, Guam, Mexico and Guatemala were seated at a traditional dignitaries table in the middle of the room.

Workshops, activities, performances, blessings and ceremonies of all cultures and traditions fostered an environment that was simultaneously spiritual, reverent, ceremonious, curious and informative.

"In every performance, you could see the pride of the culture," observed Renee Lozier-Rojas, Muckleshoot Tribe community liaison. "You could see the love of what they were doing - it said, 'this is who I am.'"

In some ways, the First People's Conference was a declaration of commitment on Green River's part. This event demonstrated our college's dedication to provide the mentoring, native organizations, tutoring and college visits that many low-income, first-generation, and minority students need to stay true to their traditional cultural roots and succeed in America.

Polynesian dance workshop
Conference attendees learn a Polynesian dance

"It is very hard to preserve traditional culture in America," explained Michael Tuncap, director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. "We show these students that you can keep your own culture and also thrive in the college culture."

Mentoring and a steadfast commitment to interrelationships - called Fa'samoa by the native Samoans -  is an important value in many native cultures, and was the underlying foundation of the First People's Conference.

"I was a leader for the boys," said Andrew Saulo, whose volunteer work through the Pacific Islander Student Union was instrumental in organizing the event. "They looked up to me to find out what to do - a lot of the kids had questions, and I explained it to them in our culture."

The event was primarily organized by student interns and volunteers of the Pacific Islander Student Union and First Nations Club in collaboration with the Office of Diversity. "The entire event was so awesome, so breathtaking," said Lozier-Rojas, "It was something I know I won't experience again until next year."