Southeast American Indian Studies Program
Southeast American Indian Studies Program

Native students get look at science at UNCP-USDA camp

It was an extraordinarily busy and productive two weeks for the 20 campers at UNC Pembroke’s American Indian youth camp in July.

The camp, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and UNCP’s Southeast American Indian Studies (SAIS) program, exposed the Native high school students to a range of sciences – from wildlife biology, to veterinary medicine and nanotechnology. Titled Safeguarding Our Natural and Tribal Heritage Youth Program (SONTH), the camp seeks to connect American Indian students to the science around them and to opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Student with Dr. David Brooks

Students with Dr. David Brooks

The SONTH program also exposed the students to a university environment by living, eating and socializing at UNCP, said Lawrence Locklear, camp coordinator. “With visits to N.C. State, Duke and N.C. A&T, it was a good exploration of colleges and careers,” Locklear said. “We did many hands-on activities in science and cultural arts, and the students really bonded. That aspect was remarkable.”

The camp drew American Indian students from as far away as Asheville, N.C., as well as from Pembroke. Donovan Branch is a rising junior at Purnell Swett High School, just a few miles from the university. His mother, Andrea, said the camp was a positive experience.

“I am so grateful that Donovan was awarded the opportunity to attend the camp. It has left such a positive impact on his life. He came home ready to go right back and spend more time with his new found family,” Branch said. “It was very reassuring to know that while Donovan was away he was surrounded by people that were there to help him realize that determination and hard work pays off.”

Corban Haire came down from the mountains of North Carolina to attend. His mother, Lisa, said, “he did great, fantastic. Corban is interested in science and medicine, and he loved the lab at (North Carolina) A&T,” she said referring to the joint nanotechnology lab with UNC Greensboro. “He also liked the canoeing.” Lisa said.

The campers canoed the Lumber River with Dr. Ryan Emanuel, a professor with NC State’s Ecohydrology and Watershed Science program. They also got hands-on experience with Native dance, drumming, beadwork, art and the traditional game of stickball.

Corban Haire is Haliwa-Saponi but lives far from his mother’s Native home. Growing up in eastern North Carolina, Lisa Haire danced at powwows and was closely connected to her tribe and family. “I’ve been pulled away from my tribe, and its been difficult for us to stay connected,” she said. “Corbin enjoyed this aspect of the camp. It was a fantastic way for him to find out about his culture.

“This group bonded, and there were lots of tears at the end,” Haire said.

A $40,000 USDA grant funded the program, which is the first in the eastern U.S. Dr. Terry Clark, the National Tribal Liaison for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), attended closing ceremonies on July 17.

“I was so impressed with the students and how much they appeared to have enjoyed and learned from the camp, ” said Dr. Clark, who is a veterinarian and a 1984 UNCP graduate. “I was extremely pleased to see so many parents there and how they were interested in seeing their youth succeed.

“Our initial intent was to expose the students to careers within the science discipline that they may have not even considered,” Dr. Clark continued. “The plans are to work with Dr. Alfred Bryant, SAIS and UNCP to explore other opportunities where USDA and APHIS can build a stronger partnership to see where we can assist other students. We hope to continue this summer program for many years to come.”

The SONTH campers used UNCP as home base and site of many activities and tours of the Department of Nursing, the Museum of the Southeast American Indian and the biotechnology lab at COMtech. For UNCP’s emerging Southeast American Indian Studies (SAIS) program, the camp was its first.

SAIS director Dr. Alfred Bryant said the response from students and their parents has been overwhelmingly positive. “The camp was intended to expose the 20 participants to as many facets of the USDA, as possible including veterinary medicine, animal science, plant science, agriculture, forestry, natural resources, environmental science and engineering,” he said. “Our hope is that they learned about careers in fields they may not have known about before.

“I wish we could have impacted more than 20 students this summer, but our goal is to continue this program with a new group of students every summer,” Dr. Bryant continued. “We are motivated to continue to enrich the lives of students through this program for years to come.”

Contributing to the enrichment were local veterinarians, Drs. David Brooks and Curt Locklear – the first Lumbee vets; local artist Gloria Tara Lowery, Alicia Chavis, who gave a beading workshop; Kaya Littleturtle who taught drum and dance; and Kelvin Melvin who introduced the group to stickball.

For more information about this program or others of the Southeast American Indian Studies program at UNCP, please contact them at (910) 521-6266, email or visit