The fraternal experience is almost as old as the collegiate experience. Fraternities and sororities are known to be just a few of the undergraduate organizations that surpass the confines of college and transcend age and geographical locations to extend into the global community. Known for notable events, fostering deep connections, raising millions of dollars for philanthropic causes, and serving others, sororities and fraternities often tout themselves as a premier experience. The community discovered and developed because of membership in a fraternal organization is an invaluable benefit for many. While Fraternity and Sorority professionals (FSAs) often receive professional development on mainstream organizations and umbrella councils, there is an unseen area that needs light. Native American fraternities and sororities are important pieces of the fraternal community puzzle, though often overlooked. In this article we explore the history, values, and significance of community in Native American fraternities and sororities.
The origins of historically Native American fraternities and sororities (HNAFS) (Jahansouz & Oxendine, 2008) can be traced back to the mid-1990s when the first organizations were founded to support Native American students attending predominantly white institutions. Transitioning to college life can be daunting for any student, but it can be even more challenging for Native American students who often face unique obstacles, such as the lack of cultural spaces on campus to find support systems to progress and persist through college (Schooler, 2014). Like many Greek-lettered organizations, the inception of these organizations came from a void needing filling. According to Oxendine, Oxendine, and Minthorn (2013), “the establishment of HNAFSs grew out of the recognition of the unique needs of Native students on college campuses. Native American students recognized the importance of retention and support of Native students, a need for cultural awareness, and an opportunity to expand and promote the Native community on their respective campuses, and it was these major concepts that provided the foundation for HNAFS.” These organizations offer an opportunity for Indigenous students to form close-knit communities, share their cultural heritage, and address the challenges they face on campus.
Being deeply rooted in indigenous culture, and playing a critical role in supporting and empowering Native American students as they navigate their academic journey, HNAFS are making a mark on the fraternity and sorority system. Founded at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in September 1994, Alpha Pi Omega Sorority, Inc. became the first Indigenous Greek-lettered organization in the nation. “Four women, known as the four winds, sought advice from elder women representing different Native tribes in North Carolina when exploring the idea of starting a sorority based on Native American traditions” (Oxendine, Oxendine & Minthorn (2013). In February 1996, with a “vision of bringing cohesion and self-reliance to Native men in college” (Phi Sigma Nu), eight young men founded Phi Sigma Nu as the first American lndian fraternity at Pembroke State University (now the University of North Carolina-Pembroke). The other notable organizations that have emerged since the inception of Alpha Pi Omega and Phi Sigma Nu include Sigma Omicron Epsilon Sorority (1997), Epsilon Chi Nu (1996), Beta Sigma Upsilon (2001), Gamma Delta Pi (2001), and the seemingly defunct Omega Delta Psi (2006) (Oxendine, Oxendine & Minthorn (2013).
As we continue to embrace diversity and inclusion in higher education, recognizing and supporting the vital role of Native American fraternities and sororities is essential in preserving the rich heritage of Indigenous cultures and empowering future generations of Native American leaders. The profound impact of Native American fraternities and sororities reaches beyond the campus, inviting professionals and allies to play a crucial role in celebrating, advising, and supporting these invaluable communities. Here are a few ways FSAs can contribute:
Celebrate and Acknowledge:
- Participate in cultural events, workshops, and discussions organized by Native American fraternities and sororities to demonstrate solidarity and cultural appreciation.
- Recognize and celebrate their achievements, milestones, and contributions within the campus community. UNC Pembroke’s Hok Nosai Council raised over $15,000 for philanthropy during their annual Golf Tournament in 2022. It was the largest fundraiser by any student organization at UNC Pembroke. They received praise and recognition for their hard work and won a campus leadership award for their achievement.
Support and Advocate:
- Advocate for the visibility and recognition of Native American fraternities and sororities within the institution by collaborating on initiatives that promote cultural awareness and understanding. This could be creating a separate governing council instead of putting Native American fraternities and sororities into a pre-existing independent or diversified All-Greek council. At UNC Pembroke, the HNAFS created the Hok Nosai Council. Hok Nosai means “all one” in the Tutelo language. Tutelo, also known as Saponi, is a Southern Siouan language.
- Champion policies and resources that address the unique needs of Native American students, such as scholarships and financial assistance. This requires connections with students and beyond. Tap into alumni, colleagues, and organization leadership to get a better understanding so that culture and policies can work in harmony.
- Collaborate on community-based projects and philanthropic efforts organized by these organizations, fostering connections between academic institutions and Indigenous communities.
- Embrace a commitment to social responsibility by actively participating in initiatives that contribute positively to society.
FSAs have a unique opportunity to uplift these organizations through engagement, advocacy, and support. By acknowledging their cultural significance, and championing their causes, FSAs can help cultivate an environment where Native American students thrive socially, culturally, and personally.
By creating an environment where Native American students can succeed academically and socially while staying connected to their roots, FSAs contribute to the holistic growth of individuals who will eventually shape society. The influence of Native American fraternities and sororities resonates far beyond their campus affiliations. FSAs have a unique opportunity to uplift these organizations through engagement, advocacy, and support. By acknowledging their cultural significance, and championing their causes, FSAs can help cultivate an environment where Native American students thrive socially, culturally, and personally. Ultimately, these collective efforts ensure that the spirit of community, preservation, and empowerment embodied by Native American fraternities and sororities continues to flourish, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of higher education.
About the author:
Keya is the current Assistant Director for Fraternities and Sororities at UNC Pembroke (GO Braves!). She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Connecticut (GO Huskies!) and her Masters at the Central Connecticut State University (GO Blue Devils!) . She has been a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. for over 10 years and truly enjoys the work she does with students each day!
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