(Tahlequah, Okla.)--Fruitful partnerships between the Cherokee Nation Foundation and Northeastern State University are commonplace, and a Study Abroad-style course studying Cherokee language and culture is no exception.
NSU recently hosted 17 students – many from out of state – for participation in Summer Abroad in the Cherokee Nation.
"The idea behind Summer Abroad in the Cherokee Nation is to emphasize the sovereignty of the Nation," said Dr. Julia Coates, visiting professor in the College of Liberal Arts. "This is an opportunity, especially for Cherokees living outside the Nation, to learn about it."
Summer Abroad in the Cherokee Nation is a collaboration between the Cherokee Nation Foundation and the NSU Center for Tribal Studies. The foundation provided scholarships through Cherokee Nation Community Assistance funds donated from At-Large Tribal Councilors. These councilors represent tribal members living outside the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation.
Coates is one of the two at-large representatives. She also serves as an advisory member on the Cherokee Nation Community Association board and the Cherokee Nation Foundation board.
The two-week course ran July 6-21. Language classes were held in the mornings Monday-Thursday. Students participated in cultural activities in the afternoons and evenings, and all day on Friday. Over the two weekends, they completed a second course in Cherokee Identity and Sovereignty, taught by Coates.
Students had the option to enroll for course credit or as community participants.
"For nearly 20 years I have been working with the at-large Cherokee citizenry to develop lines of communication and build bridges between at-large and home Cherokees," Coates said.
Coates called NSU "a natural entity" to facilitate those connections.
"The university can assist culturally and through a real educational process," she said. "The Center for Tribal Studies has an established capacity to host outstanding large-scale conferences and workshops with academic and cultural emphases."
Eric Marshall and Kinsey Shade – student workers for the Center for Tribal Studies – assisted the course as hosts. They stayed with the students in the Seminary Suites housing complex and helped familiarize them with the campus and Tahlequah.
"I had never met any at-large tribal members from outside the Cherokee national boundaries," Marshall said. "This is a way for me to learn what they see and feel concerning the Cherokee Nation. They face a lot of different issues than Cherokees within the boundaries. The students still know their ties to this area, and it is exciting to get to know them and create a bond."
Wyman Kirk, assistant professor of Cherokee language, served as an instructor for the morning sessions.
"As a 'Study Abroad,' the goal is that the students receive a Cherokee experience with a blend of academic knowledge, history and culture," he said. "We really have no way of immersing students in a community because Cherokee is an endangered language. We try to create the next best thing."
The students came from different places and enroll for different reasons. Many were recruited by the Cherokee Nation Foundation.
Mikhelle Ross-Mulkey enrolled as an NSU employee working with the Indigenous Scholar Development Center, a federal grant project to improve the academic performance of low-income American Indian students.
"I really enjoyed the weekend class on Cherokee cultural identity," she said. "It discussed the complexities of it and I still don't fully understand it, but I am closer to understanding. I've learned more language during these few days than I did online. The online work is valuable and amazing, but there is something about interacting with people that really helps me pick up the language."
Jason Denny of California heard about the class through the Cherokee Society of the Greater Bay Area. He said he had "been waiting for something" which allowed him to visit Tahlequah to learn about and become involved in Cherokee culture.
"I'd done a lot of reading about being Cherokee, and you can talk to relatives," he said. "But until you can come here and take part in these cultural activities with other members, there is nothing quite like it. I was going to take Native studies at another school, but changed my mind and now I'm coming to NSU. It just makes more sense."
Jo Robbins, a graduate student at the University of California-Riverside and resident of Phoenix, enrolled in the course for inspiration.
"My daughter is also here attending the Cherokee Nation's Camp Cherokee Day Camp," she said. "I found out about this course online and I am working on a book of poetry about my family and coming home. The language will take me a while, but I already have a half-dozen poems started because of ideas I've gotten here."
Coates expressed her appreciation toward all involved with the Summer Abroad course, and specifically mentioned the efforts of Dr. Phyllis Fife of the Center for Tribal Studies and Dr. Les Hannah, NSU coordinator of Cherokee Cultural Studies, for "keeping the program running."
"This is helping to fulfill a dream I and others have had for a long time," she said. "We have wanted to bring together these two elements of the Cherokee citizentry who don't have many opportunities to interact."
Published: 7/30/2012 10:31:07 AM