Near the west entrance of South Sierra Hall at Cal State Northridge, the air was filled Thursday with the haunting yet soothing melodies resonating from a homemade Native American wooden instrument.
The music from Rey Ortega's flute-like instrument, which he refers to as "spirit caller," appeared to have a soothing influence on his audience, consisting of about 50 CSUN students and faculty members.
"I call the sound of the flute the sound of the soul, a language that everyone understands," he said. "When people listen to it, it's a sound that will take people anywhere without going anywhere."
Ortega's performance kicked off an open house for CSUN's new American Indian studies program, which was established last year when the university hired coordinator Donna Akers, opened an office in South Sierra Hall and began offering a minor in the field.
Thursday's open house, said William Flores, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science, was held to promote awareness of the program to the outside community.
By offering the new discipline, Flores said, "the university is making an important statement to the students and people in the community that American Indian studies is a program that we need to have on this campus."
Under Akers' guidance, the program added two new courses this semester--contemporary issues of Native American people and independent studies--for a total of 11.
"The program has been identified for expansion, so in the future we will be offering classes, activities and events that never had been offered before," Akers said.
CSUN provost Louanne Kennedy said it's possible that American Indian studies could become a major at the college "somewhere down the line."
"You look at the number of people who are interested and then over time, you add more classes and then you can build a major," Kennedy said.