For the first time in college history, the Shenandoah-Kirkland Initiative brought traditional dancers and artists from the Oneida Nation to perform at Hamilton College.

Daygot Leeyos, an Oneida rapper and music producer, performed several original raps that reflected the struggles and triumphs of being a human being. Her lyrics celebrated history, empowerment, and Native American identity.

After Leeyos’s performance, a group of dancers took the stage to teach the audience members traditional dance in the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) tradition.

David Gagnidze ’18, president of the Shenandoah-Kirkland Initiative, hopes that such events will be a step toward mending the relationship between Hamilton College and the Oneida Nation. “Traditionally, the dances are only for the Oneida community, but we were really honored that they allowed us to participate at this event.”

The dancers, wearing traditional Oneida dress, circled around the stage and invited the guests to follow in their steps while they sang and played drums. In between acts, the performers explained the meaning of their dances and the instruments used.

Lilly Pieper ’18, founder of the Shenandoah-Kirkland Initiative, was inspired by her experience at the Levitt Leadership Institute and her first-year orientation trip, American Freedom. “Knowing the history and the roots of the place that you’re living in is vital to really understanding it,” she said. “This event is a great opportunity to start a two-way relationship with the Oneidas and to open up our campus to them. Bringing social dancers and artists exposes more students and faculty members to this rich cultural history and it allows the Oneidas to share a piece of their culture.”

Gagnidze hopes that this dance could become an annual event for the community. “I could really see this being a fixture on our campus,” he said. “I hope that this will grow into a deeper relationship with the Oneida Nation. These dances are very meaningful for the Oneidas. We’re very grateful that they were kind enough to share that part of our culture with us.”

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