Scholars came from across the southeastern U.S. and Canada to attend UNC Pembroke’s 7th Annual Southeast Indian Studies Conference on April 7-8.
In its seventh year, the conference has become a crossroads for research on American Indians of the region. Monica Ward, a doctoral candidate in history at UNC Greensboro, said the conference is virtually required for American Indian scholars.
“This is a good conference to get up-to-date on the newest research on American Indians of the Southeast,” Ward said. In addition to attending the conference, she also was a presenter.
Ward’s presentation on the Creek Indian leader, Mary Musgrove, who lived on the coast of Georgia, was well received. Ward’s talk was followed by Pembroke independent scholar Wes Taukchiray, who delved into the murky history of the early European settlement along rivers of southeast Carolinas, including the Lumber River basin.
“The first settlement by Europeans was a Welsh settlement at Society Hill (S.C.) on the Big Pee Dee River,” Taukchiray said. “A trader named John Thompson purchased large tracks of land in the Pee Dee River basin for 200 buckskins and other stuff.”
“He was called before an inquiry in Charleston, the capital before anybody heard of Columbia, who wanted to know why he purchased the land,” Taukchiray said. “It happened all the time that you could get a group of Indians to sell (land) for little or nothing, and this would always cause trouble later.”
Students from the University College of the North in Manitoba traveled 2,100 miles to take part in the meeting. Among other topics, UNCP faculty and students and the Canadians discussed coursework offered jointly by UNCP and UCN faculty.
However, the Canadians’ presentation on the Cree Indian Camp experience they shared last summer, in which more than 100 Indians from different tribes lived together in the Canadian wilderness, sleeping in tents and preparing food and eating communally, generated the most conversation.
“I found a connection back to my Lumbee self at Moose Lake,” said Anastasia Locklear, a 2010 UNCP graduate. “It was like a southern tent revival in that it revived the spirit from within.”
“Everything we did was necessary for something else to happen,” said Sunshine Costanzo, a 2010 UNCP graduate. “Everything we did was ceremony. It was a place of peace, contemplation and tranquility.”
Jennifer Williams, a UCN student and Cree Indian, said “I’ve spent a lot of my life at camps like this with relatives, so it was like returning home. These ceremonies are important to me as spiritual healing.”
UNCP and UCN have established a multi-dimensional relationship over four years. This spring three professors from UNCP, Drs. Jane Haladay, Rose Stremlau and Mary Ann Jacobs, and one from UCN, Dr. Maureen Simpkins, taught a course on Canadian and U.S. Indian boarding schools during the 20th century.
“This has been a useful exchange,” said Dr. Jacobs, chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies Department. “It has brought together two very unique schools with similar missions, both located among large Indian populations.”
UCN student Lynelle Zaheko shares Dr. Jacobs’ opinion and said the two universities brought different experiences to the classroom, as they did to the culture camp. “It was a narrative of the struggles of two survivor groups – one seeking education, and the other resisting it,” she remarked.
Conference participants discussed the controversial topic of education of Indian children. Dr. Stremlau said the forced removal of Indian children for the assimilation “undermined traditional culture and relationships of the tribes.” That theme resonated with the Canadian visitors.
UCN student Candice Saunders said the class gave her insight into her own family. Because her grandparents did not raise their own children, future generations of Canadian Indians lack parenting experience.
“We’ve had problems raising children because the boarding school experience interrupted families,” Saunders said. “Sometimes, you don’t know if you’re doing a good job as a parent. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m doing a good job as a parent.”
One important result of this conference is the reminder of the value of the Indian experience in the lives of the descendents of American Indians.
Whether participants were members of the Lumbee or Cree tribes, many of them reconnected with their heritage through the conference presentations and through the shared experiences in the classroom and in the camp environment. For these individuals, heritage is a powerful possession worth protecting.
Saunders, for one, is working to keep her Cree culture alive by learning the language. American Indian languages are notoriously difficult to learn, but several of them still exist primarily because descendents commit to learning them.
Saunders does, however, acknowledge that protecting her heritage through learning the language—while important—isn’t always a serious undertaking. “The Cree people like to joke and have a good time,” she said, “and things always sound funnier in Cree.”
Over the two-day conference, presentations continued on art, education, history and culture. For more information about American Indian Studies (AIS) at UNCP, please contact the department at 910.521.6266 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The conference is sponsored by AIS, the Native American Resource Center and the Office for Academic Affairs.