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Dr. Rosita Worl, Vice Chair of Sealaska Corporation, gives a talk about Indian identity at the Ivy Native Conference breakfast held in Dubois. Credit: PAULINE BANIQUED

When Rosita Worl was born, she was sent to live with her grandparents in Alaska in order to learn about her Native American heritage.

But when she was six, this "good life" ended.

"I was literally kidnapped," said Worl, the grandmother of College senior Rico Worl and a professor at the University of Alaska Southeast. "I and other children were taken from our families and put in an orphanage."

Worl, speaking at the All-Ivy Native Conference last weekend, said the adults at the orphanage punished her when she displayed her Native American identity.

Worl was one of 12 speakers at the conference, titled "Raising our Visibility and Voice." It was hosted by Six Directions, Penn's Native American student group, on Penn's campus for the first time in the event's four-year history.

The two-day event was attended by about 55 Native American students from all eight Ivy League schools, as well as Georgetown University and Swarthmore College, each of whom gathered in solidarity and celebration of collective heritage.

"I cried many times at night trying to figure out who I am," Worl said, describing her difficulty at figuring out how she and her Native American community could fit into the Western world.

Worl's experience highlights the historic and often painful episodes that Native Americans have had in the United States, said College sophomore Mia King, an event organizer.

Other conference events included panel discussions with Native American academics and writers, a screening of the documentary Mohawk Girls and a closing breakfast, where Worl gave her address.

For Dartmouth University sophomore Agatha Erickson, the conference was reassuring.

"It's good for me to know there are people outside of Dartmouth that are going through what I do," she said. "Being from a small native community [in Alaska], it was a culture shock being a vast minority" after leaving home to come to college out East.

King said a Native student from Cornell University came up to her to tell her that "it's nice being around people that just get it."

Still, King said, the conference and the Native American community have the potential to expand and grow.

"Think of what we could do with more institutional support," she said, citing the fact that "Native students aren't recruited at all by Penn."

She added that two of Six Direction's five core members are graduating this year, putting the organization's future into question.

"We need the University to make an honest commitment to recruit Native students so that we can be sustained," she said.

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