Over 200 students and faculty members attended Salvation Army Lieutenant Tyler Melfi’s talk in the auditorium about his Seneca, Apache, and Iroquois heritage and traditions, as well as his views on challenges in culture in 2022.
Mr. Melfi, pictured on stage, wore traditional clothes and performed a traditional dance through the 45 minute assembly, as well as started with a small song on a wooden flute.
Among different statements Mr. Melfi made were the following:
“You come from a tribe.”
“You have a truth inside of you that only can come from you.”
“Everything sacred is in a circle.”
“We’re all survivors, we’re all warriors in a way.”
“Key at acceptance is accepting ourselves.”
Throughout his traditional dance Mr Malfi left the stage and moved in front and through the auditorium isles, past the 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students in attendance. Seniors were excused for the day before returning for graduation at night.
Mr. Malfi also addressed the audience more specifically about his views on cultural challenges. A few students from Afghanistan engaged with Malfi when he asked the audience if anyone is bilingual, as they speak a dialect of Farsi called Dari. Malfi addressed the judgements bilingual students can face in the US, whether they are from Mexico or other countries.
He also discussed race and racism in general, building on his initial statement that everyone comes from a tribe by stating that “a lot of us don’t know where we came from.”
He noted for white students that they could envision themselves in the past as “blue eyed Indians” who once were part of a tribe, and that their ancestors re-enacted what had been done to them as far back as the Roman Empire, eventually leading into colonization in the US.
He also noted the history of the Carlisle Indian School as an example of the hardships Indigenous Americans have faced. In addition, he spoke of his CDIB card and being a citizen on a reservation and outside, including legal challenges with dual identities. He emphasized how reservations from his perspective are like concentration camps.
Malfi also spoke in a tribal language, translating for the audience that he had said “Peace be with you, I’m glad you’re well” and “This is true.”
The student audience was quiet but encouraging, clapping after Malfi sang traditional songs or danced.
Malfi ended the assembly emphasizing that while it may be “easier to not care…our words have the ability to speak life into the people around you.”