Oneida tribal leader and UW-Green Bay graduate Cristina (Tina) Danforth delivered the commencement address at her alma mater Saturday (Dec. 13), sharing a First Nations perspective and encouraging members of the class of 2014 to give back to their communities.
“It is said in our culture that each individual is born with a gift from the Creator,” Danforth said. “We believe it is our responsibility to nurture this gift so that we all become a contribution to our family and our community. Whether your gift is in the arts, the sciences, the letters or a combination of many intellectual talents, it is now your responsibility to share and use your talent for the betterment of others.”
Danforth, chairwoman of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin and a 1988 Social Work graduate of UW-Green Bay, addressed an audience of 2,000 people at mid-year commencement held at the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts. About 500 students were eligible to participate and receive degrees.
Danforth was elected to her second term as Oneida tribal chairwoman this past July, having previously served as chair from 2002 to 2005, and as tribal treasurer since 2008.
She opened her remarks with the greeting “swakwek” and a sentence spoken in the Oneida language, “Kwalak^ni niyukyats, otahyuni ni waket talohta,” explaining that her Oneida name, Kuwalak^ni, means “influential.” She identified herself as a member of the Wolf Clan, Oneida Nation and the larger Iroquois Confederacy (also known as Haudenosaunee, or “People of the Long House”).
Danforth noted that the Iroquois culture places great emphasis on giving thanks for all people and all life.
“We acknowledge the existence of the people, our Mother the Earth, the waters, the fish, the plants, the food plants, the medicine herbs, the animals, the trees, the birds, the four winds, the seasons, the Thunderers, the sun, the stars, our Grandmother the Moon, the Enlightened Teachers and messengers, and the Creator for all living things.
“In our acknowledgement, we are reminded that again our gifts are also our responsibility. Taking care of Mother Earth for all humankind is a serious task. It is what you are tasked with today as you walk across this stage to the next part of your journey on this Earth.”
She told the UW-Green Bay graduates she chose to share these traditional teachings in her remarks because “they are a reminder that we all are related, we all are connected and we all have a common purpose based on the principals of life.”
She closed with the words “Yawako, tanethoniyotuhake, tani. Thank you, so be our minds.”