To enrich their understanding of Native American culture, history, and contemporary issues, students in West Virginia University’s Native American Studies Program are traveling this summer to the Yup’ik Native Village of Tuntutuliak, Alaska; the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Cherokee, N.C.; and Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex in Moundsville, W.Va.
“As part of its 2020 Strategic Plan, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences is committed to providing every undergraduate student with hands-on learning opportunities,” said Bonnie M. Brown, coordinator of the Native American Studies Program. “Our Native American Studies courses help prepare students for dynamic careers by providing cross-cultural, real-world experience unavailable in the typical classroom.”
Yup’ik Culture and History students traveled to the Native Village of Tuntutuliak with instructor Angela Grabuloff, Ed.D. Tuntutuliak familes, who depend on nature for survival, once again welcomed WVU students to their home on the tundra, inviting them to join in typical subarctic subsistence activities, such as cutting up walrus meat, skinning swans, cleaning and drying seal intestines to make raincoats, and gathering tundra tea. In addition, students learned about community life, law enforcement, wilderness search and rescue, health care, and language preservation, and heard from village elders about cultural practices and traditional arts and crafts.
The Yup’ik course was first offered in 2010. This year, along with WVU undergraduates, two Morgantown High School students participated. A blind panel of the high school’s teachers judged a host of competitive essays and selected Tristan Dennis and Alana Neptune as the winners. Dennis and Neptune’s travel expenses were covered in large part due to Grabuloff’s successful grant proposals to the Morgantown High School and Mylan Foundations.
Travis Henline, a Native American Studies alumnus who earned his master’s in history at WVU and is currently the site manager for West Virginia Independence Hall, served as instructor of the Native American Studies Cherokee History and Culture course for the third time. Accompanied by Brown, he led the travel class to Cherokee, N.C., on the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the ancestral homeland of the Cherokee people. The class met with several tribal members, including cultural educators and staff at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
Students learned about Cherokee history and culture through language, music, dance, storytelling, pottery, archaeology and traditional plant medicine. They also met with the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer and visited two ancient Cherokee mound sites, Kituwha and Nikwasi. The group also visited with Cherokee artist and renowned potter Joel Queen in his studio.
One notable experience for the WVU group involved a nature walk to Mingo Falls to learn about traditional medicinal plants from Cherokee elder, Jerry Wolf, who also gave a tour of the Tribe’s trout hatchery. Wolf is a World War II veteran who was part of the Normandy Invasion.
“He was absolutely amazing,” said Abigail Cioffi, from Charles Town, W.Va. “He has an abundance of knowledge about Cherokee heritage and it was fantastic to hear his stories and words of wisdom.”
Cioffi is an alumna of the Department of History and is currently working on her master’s in public history at WVU.
The class attended the annual day-long Cherokee Voices Festival, where Henline portrayed British Military Ensign Henry Timberlake during an 18th century dialogue re-enactment with the Cherokee emissary Ostenaco, portrayed by John Standingdeer, Jr., a tribal member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The two men participate in the Emissaries of Peace interactive documentary that PBS offers to schools throughout the country. They also perform at events associated with the Museum’s Emissaries of Peace 250th Anniversary Exhibit, such as Fort Necessity National Battlefield’s upcoming Cherokee Cultural Heritage Festival on July 7 and 8.
“I think Native American Studies courses are key to studying preservation, especially for anyone interested in the post-colonial era,” said Tessie Sigman, a student in the Cherokee class. “In fact, it is important material to understand when considering any aspect of American history—it’s smart to have a solid historical background—this is a huge part of our country’s foundation
Sigman is working toward her degree in secondary history education and will become a Native American Studies minor this fall.
Also in July, Native American Studies faculty and students will spend a week in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle volunteering at the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex in Moundsville, W.Va.
“The heart of our Native American Studies program is providing students with opportunities for hands-on learning and personal interaction with Native people from diverse cultural and tribal backgrounds,” Bonnie Brown said. “Volunteering in Moundsville will enable the volunteers to both intellectually and physically connect to the culture of the ancient people of our region while ‘giving back’ to the state through our volunteer service.”
More than 2,000 years old, Grave Creek Mound is the largest Adena-period conical mound believed to exist. In the shadow of this monumental mound, students will be trained and supervised by Museum staff as they work in labs to help sort, clean, and label previously collected artifacts such as stone tools and pottery sherds found throughout the region and housed at the Complex, which is the State’s official repository for such items.
Students will hear presentations from staff, engage in discussions, view films, and learn about modern preservation and archival methods. Volunteers have the opportunity for an enriching experience and gain awareness of West Virginia’s efforts to preserve evidence of early Native American cultures.
The roots of the Native American Studies Program extend back into the early 1980s when Native leaders were invited to campus to give guest lectures. The program continued to grow and by 1992, the first 3-credit course, “Introduction to Native American Studies,” was offered. Native American Studies officially became a minor at WVU in 1998.
In recent years the program has offered courses in topics as diverse as Lakota Studies, American Indian Health, Sovereign Tribal Nations, American Indian Material Culture, Moundbuilder Culture, Working in Indian Country and Native Women in Leadership, among others. This fall, the program offers a special topics course in Apache Culture and History with Dr. Carol Markstrom, as well as a Native Hawaii travel immersion course with Thomas Keopuhiwa. Plans are underway for a course on American Indian Treaties with Suzan Harjo (Cheyenne, Hodulgee Muscogee), curator for an upcoming treaties exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, as well as a course based on the book, “In the Courts of the Conquerer: The Ten Worst Indian Law Cases Ever Decided,” by Walter Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), who will visit campus in spring 2013.
For more information, contact Bonnie Brown, at 304-293-6284 or BonnieM.Brown@mail.wvu.edu
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