By Jay Roberson
Lunchtime at Daly Dining Hall was filled with the sounds of traditional Native American music and colorful choreography by the Piscataway Nation Singers and Dancers showcased on Nov. 1 for the beginning of Native American Heritage Month.
Mark Tayac, the leader of the group, spoke about the ways in which their community values music and dance because of its history.
Tayac said, “It hasn’t been an easy journey for our people. There [were] periods of time [in] our history that what we are sharing here with you today, we were not allowed to use our drum or sing these songs or to do these dances.”
The group began with a grand entry dance, then moved into performances named after animals, including the crow dance, rabbit dance, snake dance and eagle dance.
Thomas Smith, a freshman music production major, participated in the group snake dance, where participants held hands and moved around as the reptile does.
Smith said, “The snake dance was really fun because we were all interconnected and we were all moving, so I really enjoyed that.”
Another dance that community members were invited to join was the war dance, which was used to end arguments between tribe members by aiming to tap the shoulder of the opponent to symbolize peace and understanding.
Tayac said, “Many of our people in the old days, and many of us still today, believe that only God, the creator of life, had the right to take the spirit from another human being.”
Tayac also explained another method of playing a game in order to resolve any disagreements.
“Our wars were normally fought on the ballfield … If there was a dispute between two of our villages we selected our best warriors. They would go on to the ballfield and they would play this game, stick-ball, for days upon days upon days,” said Tayac.
Freshman psychology major Lex Wright felt that the event allowed for Rider students to learn more about the culture by connecting themselves to it through dance.
Wright said, “I liked that they brought people up to participate. I thought it was interesting that everyone was able to get more immersed by doing that.”
The Piscataway Nation Singers and Dancers hoped to provide people with an accurate idea of what Native American tribes are really like in spite of misinformation spread through mass media.
Tayac said, “What we found over the years is that in today’s society, many things that people have learned about us they have learned from the media, such as sport teams that use our people as mascots. Or they’ve learned about our people from cartoon characters, such as Pocahontas.”
Smith noted he thought it was important to learn about Native American heritage directly from tribes rather than through pop culture, which may not accurately portray the tribes.
He said, “Instead of the media showing us and portraying what the culture is like, it’s good to have people who are actually involved and actually in the community.”
Native Americans were not always able to practice all parts of their culture due to years of oppression and genocide; the Piscataway Nation Singers and Dancers show pride in these longtime traditions through the showcasing of their art.
Tayac said, “We are descendents from Tecumseh, Pontiac, Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, Geronimo and all of the great chiefs and people that have gone on before us. We have survived the genocide that was perpetuated on our people.”
Watch the video of the Piscataway Dancers by Jay Roberson.