In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, members of the Piscataway Nation Singers and Dancers visited Brookdale’s Lincroft campus on Nov. 9 to meet with students and showcase their traditional songs, dances and clothing for the Brookdale community.
The program, hosted by the Office of Student Life and Activities as part of this year’s Live at Lunch series, drew a standing-room-only crowd of students, employees and local residents.
Group leader Mark Tayac began the presentation by dispelling some commonly held stereotypes regarding American Indian culture, including the popular representation of tribal “war dances” and songs. While most movies and TV shows depict the same monotonous chant, Tayac said true American Indian songs are much more diverse, conveying a rich history and deep meaning to dancers and audiences alike.
“The drum represents the heartbeat,” said Tayac. “As long as we keep the drumbeat alive, our culture will be kept alive for future generations… And it reminds us that we are all united. No matter your religion, your race, your ancestry or your beliefs, we all share the same heartbeat.”
A team of Piscataway Nation dancers, donned in handmade tribal attire, performed a variety of traditional dances for the crowd, including a “shield dance,” an “eagle dance,” and a “couples dance” featuring nearly a dozen student volunteers. Tayac, who sang and played drums, began each performance by explaining the cultural relevance of each dance and the music that accompanied it.
Tayac also hosted a Q&A with students, answering questions about the number of American Indian tribes (more than 500, he said), the relevance of traditional attire (specific items, such as eagle feathers, must be earned), and the preferred nomenclature for native peoples.
While the phrase “Native American” is widely accepted, Tayac said he and many other groups prefer to be called American Indians, which more accurately reflects the breadth of their history.
“The whole western hemisphere was our home,” said Tayac, adding that the Italian phrase “Los Indios” translates to “God’s people.” “It is still our home today.”
The presentation was hit with students and employees alike, including graphic design major and Student Life Board member Diana Wells.
“I think it was a great way to learn more about Native American culture,” said Wells, one of the lucky students invited on stage to participate in the “couple’s dance.” “They taught us a lot of things, including their dances and even some of their language. They taught me how to say, basically, ‘have a good day.’ It was really interesting. And I got to touch the drum, which was cool.”
Following the performance, the Piscataway Nation Singers and Dancers spent time answering questions, displaying cultural artifacts, posing for photos and offering handmade American Indian souvenirs to the students in attendance.
Drawn originally from the Algonquin nation, the Piscataway of the Chesapeake and Tidewater regions were the first native Americans to encounter English captain John Smith on the banks of the Potomac in 1608. Today, the Piscataway Nation Singers and Dancers keep alive the longstanding traditions, culture, and heritage of their indigenous ancestors.
Learn about all upcoming campus events by visiting the Student Life and Activities webpage.
Check out more photos of Piscataway Nation Singers and Dancers performance here.