As many across the nation celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day today, one Davis & Elkins College student wants to educate others on the values and culture of Native Americans. Freshman Tre Turner is spreading the word in hopes that people will gain a better understanding and respect for the people who inhabited our land before the colonization of America.
On Oct. 8, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a proclamation declaring that on Indigenous Peoples Day, “we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today.” The day is observed on the second Monday of October and in some states replaces Columbus Day.
“A lot of people don’t know we’re still here and I want to bring awareness to that and what it means,” Turner said.
Turner is a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy – the only federally recognized confederacy in the United States. Basically, that means he resides in a reservation within the United States and holds a dual citizenship. Specifically, his reservation is divided into two plots – the Allegheny Territory and the Steamburg Territory – which encompasses the town of Salamanca, New York, and is governed by the Seneca Nation.
“We have our own rules and are self-governed,” Turner said explaining that his tribal nation operates independently from the state and national government.
While the terrain of West Virginia is similar to that of Turner’s homeland and sense of community is present in both locales, he says the culture is quite different.
“Everyday life is much different. Everyone really relies on one another and we have a strong belief in honoring the earth and everything on it,” Turner said.
Before major events, they participate in Ganö:yök, a 30-minute ceremony similar to a prayer in which they connect with nature.
“We start from the ground up, the grass, animals, birds. It’s very sacred,” Turner said, adding that the act is more spiritual than religious. “It’s more about the way we live, a belief system in a spiritual sense.”
The Haudenosaunee’s respect for the earth and strong community bond is evident in their unified approach to opposing government regulations that compromise their land and taxes. Adults and children participate in the marches and protests.
Although conflicts with government are longstanding, Turner and members of the Seneca Nation attended public high school where about 65-70% of students were Native American. That’s a big difference from the student body at Davis & Elkins where approximately 1% of the population is known Native American.
Turner is a member of the men’s lacrosse team – that’s what drew him to the College – and he’s happy that his coaches, David Pomeroy and Josh Buzzard, and teammates are familiar with his culture.
“The men’s lacrosse team has a great tradition of walking from Martin Fieldhouse to Nuttall Field on game days with the United States flag and the Canadian flag to represent our lacrosse student-athletes from Canada. Coach Buzzard and I are honored to add the Haudenosaunee flag to our program and honored to start a tradition of always having availability for Native American men’s and women’s lacrosse players to have a home here at Davis & Elkins College,” Pomeroy said.
Joshua Allegra, from the Native American Brotherton Tribe, is also a member of the men’s lacrosse team. Assistant Women’s Lacrosse Coach Harley Kinney is Bad River Band of Ojibwe, and an incoming women’s lacrosse freshmen is Haudenosaunee.
On Oct. 13, when D&E’s International Student Services and International Student Organization host the annual Flag Raising Ceremony, Turner will display a Haudenosaunee flag. Now a tradition at the College, the event includes a short parade where international students process with flags from their home countries and invite the campus to share snacks. The flags remain on display in Liberal Arts Hall.
“I’m really excited to fly the flag around,” Turner said. “It’s a good opportunity for others to see the flag and ask questions and gain a deeper understanding. I fly the flag almost everywhere. I have one in the dorm room as well as tattooed on the back of my calf.”