Week 3 2015

The third week connected present-day issues to the historical contexts the institute addresses.

Discussion topics for the week included:

  • The emergence of pan-Indian organizations and activism at the federal and New England regional levels as responses to the continuing assimilationist policies of the late nineteenth century
  • Federal efforts to terminate recognition of tribes after World War II and the subsequent shift, responding in part to militant Native activism, toward promoting tribal “self-determination."
  • Federal recognition
  • Repatriation
  • The concept of "holistic history"

We explored the link between historical events and regional memory with guest presenter Christine DeLucia. Scholars were fascinated by DeLucia’s interdisciplinary approach which draws on material and visual culture—such as paintings, household objects, and family heirlooms—as well as archival and archaeological sources, ethnography and oral history, and the land itself.

Alice Nash explained the importance of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a Federal law passed in 1990, and considerations that make it difficult to implement.

Kathleen Brown-Pérez, Esq. narrated a brief history of her tribe (Brothertown), from its origins in New England to its present-day location in Wisconsin, and talked about her experience as the tribe’s legal counsel during its unsuccessful bid for Federal Acknowledgement, highlighting the process and complexities of Federal Acknowledgement.

Together, these presentations emphasized the complex legal terrain that indigenous peoples constantly navigate, and the ways in which historical (mis)understandings affect their lives every day.

The theme of connecting past and present continued with our final field trip, a visit to the Mohegan Government and Community Center and the Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum in Uncasville, CT, where Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel addressed the Scholars. This completed our series of visits to different Native communities.

Linda Coombs, our final guest presenter, emphasized the importance of “holistic history,” that is, history that builds on interdisciplinary approaches and incorporates multiple perspectives (Coombs 2002). Too often overlooked are the creativity and innovation that characterize Native Americans’ response to colonization, exemplified by the flowering of crafts from the earliest contact period to the present day, and by the creative marketing of “traditional” crafts to produce modern income (Lester 1994). Coombs will bring materials for a craft project with the Scholars and address best practices for helping students relate to Native American history and culture without imposing stereotypes.

Throughout the final week, the NEH Summer Scholars presented and discussed their curricular projects. The NEH Summer Institute concluded with a talking circle where NEH Summer Scholars discussed what they had learned over the preceding three weeks.