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Through dance and sharing their culture, the Piscataway Native Dancers are looking to overcome stereotypes and shed light on the positivity of American Indian culture.

By traveling around the world, Mark Tayac and the other dancers try to show the world that what is commonly portrayed in pop culture is not the reality of American Indian culture. Tayac, who has worked with children in the culture for 30 years and will become chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation once his father Billy Tayac, the current chief, dies, seeks to remind the youth that they are “descended from a beautiful and proud people.”

“We have survived as a people, and we are still here today,” Tayac said to a crowd of College of Southern Maryland students last week during the group’s presentation, held as a part of Native American Heritage Month. “[We want] to change images ... images that have not always portrayed us in a positive way.”

Tayac said the first dance he and the others performed, the Grand Entry dance, is done at every powwow the tribe holds. The five dances the group performed were representative of different parts of Piscataway culture. Some were done by single dancers. For others, Tayac and the three other dancers and tribe members with him selected members of the audience to come up and experience a small part of the culture firsthand.

Between dances, Tayac offered the crowd small lessons on the tribe’s culture and heritage. He also expressed that many prefer to be called American Indians, rather than Native Americans.

“For many of the different ethnic groups, the word ‘American’ comes after the country they came from,” Tayac said. “By being referred to as American Indians, it shows that this was our home: we originated here in this land and are still here to this day as a people.”

During Native American Heritage Month, Tayac said the group performs Monday through Friday, and this year will travel as far away as Buffalo, N.Y., and Miami to share the presentation, although the group has traveled “almost the whole world over” in years past.

“We’re working to install real pride in our identity,” Tayac said. “We’ve been very successful using the beauty of our culture.”

For Jennifer Lesesne, CSM student life coordinator, the decision to bring the presentation back for its third year on campus was an easy one.

“We like to offer a lot of different events for the students. With this being Native American Heritage Month, we wanted students to be able to learn more,” Lesesne said. “It’s good that with this, that have an opportunity to participate ... it’s awesome.”

CSM student Arielle Blake was impressed with the work the group does to diminish the presence of cultural stereotypes.

“It was very informative about their culture, especially the grass dance ... and the balance and harmony of life,” Blake said, referring to a specific dance performed by the group. “I really like how they opened up ... a lot of people aren’t open, and I liked how they were willing to do that for us.”

lrenner@somdnews.com