The Connecticut Native American Intertribal Urban Council met Saturday to iron out details of their upcoming gathering at the Afro-American Cultural Center to celebrate Native American History Month.
The social will take place on Nov. 30 at The Af-Am House and feature potluck food, a raffle and entertainment from a local drum group
CNAITUC, a non-profit in its third year, also discussed several other projects to build and support the Native community in New Haven, including a health fair, their scholarship fund and their annual Powwow in June.
The council’s president, James Rawlings MPH ’80, is a Yale School of Medicine clinical instructor, president of the Greater New Haven NAACP and an elder in the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribal Council. He said CNAITUC helps urban Native people, many of whom are separated from their home communities and traditions, find and assert their identities within the community.
“There’s no 101 course for Native culture,” he said. “You have to reconnect to your identity from within a culture and community.”
He said for many Native people who did not have the privilege of learning their traditions from their families, it can be hard to assert a Native identity. To counteract this, he said, all of their events incorporate an educational aspect.
Rawlings said the philosophy of the group is to make sure that Native identity is not lost in an urban setting and that Native children are raised with the empowerment of their identities.
“We’re here to serve the next generation. There’s nothing more important than that,” he said.
The organization also aims to aid to the city’s existing Native community. It has established a partnership with CVS Pharmacy to offer Native students in the area up to $5,000 to pursue an education in pharmacology or nursing. The Connecticut Humanities Council also awarded the council a grant to fund their Wampanoag language program. They are currently weighing options for language instructors.
Their annual Powwow, held at East Rock in late May each year, hosts a health fair to raise awareness of health issues and increase access to health resources for Native people, offering free diabetes screenings.
According to the Indian Health Service, American Indians are 2.2 times more likely to have Type II diabetes than white Americans.
Members from the Penobscot, Navajo, Cherokee and other nations were represented at the meeting. They meet bi-weekly at the NAACP office on Whalley Ave.
New member Jerry Goins, from the Cherokee tribe, who attended the meeting on Saturday said that he was attracted by the positivity of the group and had felt “disconnected” from Native communities since moving to New Haven in 2011. He added that he appreciated the initiative that the council was taking to foster a community.
The organization’s long-term goal, Rawlings said, is to establish a cultural center in the city, modeled after the American Indian Community House in Manhattan. They are looking at different properties now, but they are limiting their search to properties near a natural area or body of water to reinforce a connection to the land.
“We can’t teach our children on asphalt,” Rawlings said.
The council hopes to increase membership and forge bonds with the Yale native community, as well. Rawlings encouraged Tasce Bongiovanni, a Robert Wood Johnson clinical scholar at the Yale School of Medicine, to join the council as part of her community-based participatory research project.
Bongiovanni, who is of Navajo descent, is now working with the council to address issues of Native patients’ access to transplant organs. It is often more difficult to find matches, she said, because of the genotypic diversity within the population and the relative lack of organ donors. She said she hopes to set up a national network of Native organ donors.
“It’s so nice to have found a community in New Haven to be a part of and serve,” she said.
The organization’s latest project is to join the national movement to change the name of the Washington D.C. football team.