On Monday morning, Stanislaus State held an oak tree planting ceremony on the grass area east of Naraghi Hall to acknowledge the fact that the campus is built on the traditional lands of the Yokuts Nation.

Stanislaus State has held numerous events in honor of Native American communities (like the Yokuts Nation) as part of the annual, nationwide celebration of Indigenous People’s Day. 

Stan State director of presidential initiatives, Neisha Rhodes, talked about the importance of having an event like this take place.

“We want to make sure that the indigenous people and their culture are recognized and appreciated. There are also many members of the campus community who are of native descent, so we want them to feel as if they are being embraced.”

Those who attended Monday’s ceremony included staff, faculty, students, and several indigenous elders and community members of indigenous backgrounds.

They were met with the soothing sound of the flute, which was played throughout the duration of the ceremony by Native American flute player, Val Shadowhawk. Attendees were also treated to a number of refreshments. 

Stan State president, Ellen Junn, kicked off the day’s events by delivering a speech in which she payed her respects to the attending members of the Yokuts Nation and thanked them for their cooperation in planning the event.

“We are deeply honored to work with Yokuts elders to pay homage and deep respect to their people by formally commemorating a symbol of the Yokuts Nation with the planting of two native oak trees that will stand as enduring evidence of our recognition and thanks to the Yokuts Nation.”

This event only included the blessing and planting of one of the oak trees president Junn mentioned, but she made sure to speak briefly of the second tree, located at the entrance of the trans-California pathway. This tree was already blessed and planted prior to Monday’s ceremony.

Before the oak tree was blessed and planted, Nototomne elder, Katherine Perez, explained the significance of not only the oak tree, but all of nature in general.

Perez walked the audience through the carbon and photosynthetic cycles to try and give the audience a better understanding of just how important nature is to our everyday lives and why natives value nature so much.

Perez followed up her explanation with a serious piece of advice for event attendees.

“We need to understand that our creator created Mother Earth and all living things in balance with us, and not the other way around,” Perez said. “If we continue the destructive behavior that we have begun and have become accustomed to, we leave nothing for the future generations.”

Soon after Perez concluded her speech, natural herbs were burned and were used to perform a traditional blessing for the oak tree. After the tree was blessed, all members of the audience were invited to shovel at least one scoop of dirt into the hole where the oak tree was placed.

Karmjit Bath (junior, Business Finance) was one of the many people who attended the ceremony and helped contribute to the planting of the tree.

“I feel that it’s important to pay homage to all indigenous cultures because these people were here before we got here, and it’s only right to honor the land they once called home. It was important to come out and view the planting of the oak trees because it holds a great amount of cultural and human significance.”

Bath also elaborated on how beneficial attending these kinds of events could be in terms of diversity and cultural consciousness.

“The respect for other cultures is something all students should work on. I simply hope that more awareness about the significance of this culture is spread throughout the campus, even if it’s only a handful of students." 

After the oak tree was successfully planted, President Junn reminded the audience of some of Stan State’s core values and what she hopes will result from this event.

“I want to ensure that CSU Stanislaus will continue to embrace diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice and will strive to teach, mediate, incorporate, and promote issues of diversity that go beyond the surface,” President Junn said.

President Junn ended the ceremony by expressing her interest in maintaining a strong relationship with the Native American community.

She hopes that the trees continue to grow large and beautiful and serve as a representation of the strong indigenous presence on and around the Stan State campus.

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