Next Thursday, Nov. 21, the SF State Richard Oakes Multicultural Center (ROMC) will host the 11th Annual Richard Oakes Celebration to commemorate the life of Mohawk Native American Activist Richard Oakes.
The celebration, which is open to the public, will explore Native American community activism on campus and in the San Francisco Bay Area through performances, workshops and discussions on indigenous identity, environmental justice and violence in the justice system.
“We want students to walk away feeling empowered, to feel engaged in community organizing and create change in their community,” said Rafael Moreno, the ROMC senior office assistant and member of Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations (SKINS).
This year’s event will bring indigenous youth from local middle schools and high schools to the University to pay homage to Oakes and the activism he inspired in today’s Native American community.
“We are the first ethnic studies college in the nation, and it gets overlooked,” said Mariah Cruz, the SKINS Northern California Chair president. “It’s important to emphasize ethnic studies to youth so that they can see that there is history relevant to them.”
In 1998, the Cesar Chavez Student Governing Board approved the creation of a multicultural center within the student center.
The center was named after Richard Oakes, a Native American activist and former SF State student, who led the student and Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island from Nov. 20, 1969 to June 11, 1971.
The Alcatraz Island occupation was organized to promote awareness for Native American sociopolitical and economic concerns and the need for an American Indian studies and ethnic studies programs at the University according to John-Carlos Perea, an American Indian studies professor, who will perform Native American flute music at the celebration.
“It is far too easy in American popular culture to be fooled by the idea that American Indians are all dead or in the past,” Perea said. “It is my hope that by celebrating Richard Oakes we can inspire students to take his example and that of the other student leaders and to create a new movement that is relevant to today’s student community and meaningful to the larger Native community.”
The ROMC and SKINS began planning for this year’s annual celebration at the beginning of this fall semester, and decided to use it to inspire indigenous students from local middle and high schools to become involved in their communities.
“He (Richard Oakes) is a big part of the Bay Area history, he brought awareness of the Res (reservation) lifestyle and the urban Indian experience — knowing him is a stepping stone for a movement,” Moreno said.