SUNY Oswego’s Global Awareness Conference will go virtual this year for the first time, with a theme of “The Year of First Nations” on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 6 and 7.

Headliners for the opening event, starting at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6, are Sachem Sam George, one of 10 Sachems (chiefs) for the Cayuga Nation, and Grammy award-winning Native American musician Joanne Shenandoah.

Sachem George, who represents the Bear Clan for the Cayugas, will give the opening keynote. Having grown up on Seneca Nation territory (Cattaraugus) and learning Seneca language and customs, Sachem George sought to learn his Cayuga heritage. When he moved back to his homeland in 2014, as one of the first important tasks, he oversaw the building of the Cayuga School House, modeled after a contemporary longhouse.

Having Sachem George keynote is relevant becuase the Cayuga Nation and the other tribes of the Iroquois had ancestral territory throughout the region including Oswego, said Hart Hall faculty director Joseph Stabb, who coordinates the conference.

Called one of “America’s most celebrated and critically acclaimed Native American musicians of her time” by the Associated Press, Shenandoah has three Grammy nominations overall, an Emmy nomination and over 40 music awards (including 14 Native American Music awards and a Hall of Fame induction). She has performed across the globe for audiences and venues ranging from The White House to Carnegie Hall to The Vatican and beyond.

At 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 7, Closing keynote speaker Libby Gerstner will present  “Living Off the Grid in 2020: The Uncontacted Tribes of India and Brazil.” The 2020 graduate of Tulane University Law School will describe what “uncontacted” means in modern times and highlight what researchers have discovered about these groups and their cultures. The presentation also will highlight some of the struggles that these tribes have faced over the last few decades.

In past years, the conference has held sessions related to topics such as communication, business, culture or arts and entertainment, all of which have been put into the perspective of cultures from outside of the U.S. A range of additional sessions will take place on Nov. 7.

Global reach

“This year I’m expecting an even greater reach of speakers because it is virtual,” said Stabb, who also is a member of the communication studies faculty. “I’m guessing we will have a larger geographic range of speakers to present at this year’s conference.”

While the conference has generally always been open to the public, Stabb says he expects a higher turnout from outside of campus this year than they have traditionally experienced.

“Traditionally, the conference has been mostly SUNY Oswego students that attend but I think this year because of the virtual nature of the conference we might see a more equal representation of our off-campus community as opposed to our on-campus community,” Stabb said.

The theme connects with the college’s Institute for Global Engagement highlighting First Nations and Native American cultures for 2020-21. The institute and the Artswego Performing Arts Series help sponsor the conference.

For more information about the conference, and links to the sessions as the event approaches, visit

-- Written by Tomas Rodriguez, Class of 2021