Co-instructors Dr. April Sievert and Dr. Richard Henne-Ochoa combine their different specializations in AMST-A 399 North American Indigenous Peoples’ Resilience. With Dr. Sievert’s background in Native groups who originated in Indiana, material culture, and repatriation and Dr. Henne-Ochoa's background in Native groups on the Plains, language, economies, and sovereignty, the two professors hope to help students become more observant, understand the power of community, and develop their empathy and ability to explain.
An interview with Dr. April Sievert, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, and Dr. Richard Henne-Ochoa, Director of American Indian Studies Research Institute, is below.
Why is it important for students to take this course?
Dr. Sievert: Well, I think, in particular, given the Themester topic of resilience, I don't know of any people personally who have been more resilient than some of the Indigenous people whose homelands they were forced to leave in the 19th century and who have recreated vibrant social, economic, and cultural programs in areas somewhat distant as well as not so distant. It's important for students to know much more about Indiana's Indigenous people. For example, why are we called Indian-a? The whole name of the state has a problematic foundation and evokes something that doesn't necessarily evoke the idea of Indigenous people, so it's like students, here in Indiana, what does that mean? What are we going to do with that?
Dr. Henne-Ochoa: With any kind of learning, you're not just learning about something out there. You're learning about yourself, who you are, your various social identities. I think that this class affords many opportunities for one to not only consider what is America, but to think about who they are within the realm of being an American.
What I think someone might get out of the class is the ability to reflect on and change their behavior in ways that will actually lead to a more inclusive society. Putting myself in that place of a student, it is the opportunity to think about questions like what can I do to help North American communities pursue their goals? And in some cases, rebuild their communities? They've been resilient and so, to continue to be healthy communities, what can I do as an outsider? I don't necessarily mean like material contributions, but I mean, in my position as I interact with other people. How do I, for example, stop a conversation that's going in a certain direction that is exclusive? How do I make it more inclusive? How do I create spaces for different voices—not just Native North American voices, but voices of those who are often excluded?
I think that this class affords many opportunities for one to not only consider what is America, but to think about who they are within the realm of being an American.
Dr. Sievert: I always hope that students become more observant, so a lot of my classes involve ways in which students can become more observant, either through reading or by watching video projects, performance projects, feature films—things to think about what it is they're actually seeing. But, it’s also about being observant about where they are, what the land is, and to be able to imagine, to some degree, people who may no longer be here, but people who grew up using the same resources we see every day like black walnut trees and various things.
Also, I would like students to be able to, as a result of this course, see and observe that social cohesiveness and social change is often best done in the context of a community. One person can do a lot—Greta Thunberg has done a lot, but when you look at what Indigenous people are doing, it's almost always couched in terms of the community. Yeah, there are active individuals, but there's a sense of things being done for the good of the community—whatever that good is. I think a lot of times we don't really see ourselves as part of communities that can move things—maybe more now with Black Lives Matter as it's a pan community of people who have a like-minded goal, but I was always so struck by how with Indigenous projects and initiatives, they’re so community-based. Education is something done for the community, not for the individual. For me, that's one of the big things I've learned in the last decade: the value of community. It's hard to find it, but the value is definitely there—and it’s amazing.
Dr. Henne-Ochoa: In all the courses I've taught, I'm always trying to get students to gain understandings. Knowledge and understanding are not the same thing. We can get knowledge—we can read, we can be lectured at—taking knowledge. Two facets of understanding are empathy and the ability to explain. I'm interested in less of regurgitating facts, spitting out information, taking it in and laying it out on a quiz or a test, but interested in them taking in this material, thinking about it in a critical way and in creative ways, and developing those kinds of understandings.
For example, I want them to empathize, to the extent possible, in order to understand what Native North American people have experienced and are experiencing, and where they're headed, put themselves in those shoes. I want them to be able to explain why it is, for example, certain Native North American communities are intent on revitalizing their languages, why that is so valuable and important, and explain why it is they don't want to assimilate.
I want students to develop the kinds of understandings of native North American resilience that lead to the kind of action and the skills that work towards a more inclusive society. That's my agenda, and I'm not shying away from that. It's sort of an activist agenda. I don't believe that the knowledge, skills, and understandings gained should be neutralized and be just an exercise. I want this to be this course to be, to some extent, transformative—that it actually makes a difference for people in how they live their lives, and therefore, how others live their lives as a consequence of interacting with them.
In terms of skills, I come back to the idea of having a skill of having the ability to create a more inclusive society, so developing tools for doing that—even if it's just learning the language of how to talk about difference and have a talk about making space for multiple voices and multiple identities.
I would like students to be able to, as a result of this course, see and observe that social cohesiveness and social change is often best done in the context of a community
What, to you, is the most interesting aspect of this course?
Dr. Sievert: For me, it will be being able to bring to students some of the experiences that I have had in the realm of resilience because they could be new for them. We’ll be reading a book about the Eastern Shawnee who pulled together a project in which they were able to write their history in a book about their own resilience through an adversity. It'll be great to share what I know and also to bring in people from the Eastern Shawnee to be able to guide students into thinking a bit differently about where Indigenous people from Indiana ended up and what they're doing currently.
Dr. Henne-Ochoa: I think that too often, for a lot of students—particularly non-Native students—they tend to think of Native people as no longer around or completely assimilated, indistinguishable from the rest of the kind of the mainstream white American culture. What I think is interesting about this is that not only are Native people still here, but there is more so than ever before in the last hundred years or more a kind of revitalization that's happening in Indian Country.
For example, right now, I'm at the American Indian Studies Research Institute. We have some visitors from Montana, and there are a couple of middle-aged guys and younger women here who are actively engaged in reclaiming their language and culture, making digital copies of materials that are vital to the resurgence and to their resilience, so they're actively engaged in the resilience of their nations. And so, I imagine again to echo, April [Dr. Sievert], is to have them as guests, visitors to talk from firsthand experience, not just about their visit to the American Indian Studies Research Institute and reclaiming their linguistic heritage—at least as far as the records are concerned—but also what's happening at home. I think that's what's particularly compelling about this—there is immediacy and contemporary relevance to all of this. We're not studying ancient history.
We're not studying ancient history.
What type of students would you encourage to take this course?
Dr. Sievert: I'd like to think it would be great for any student, but certainly students who have an interest in social and environmental justice—in understanding how history has gotten us to where we are and recognizing how things can change in the future, perhaps. I'd like to think that any student who has a sense of community and who wants to be in a class that is structured more like a community of learners, rather than an instructor and students.
Dr. Henne-Ochoa: To echo Dr. Sievert, it's people who are interested in social justice and environmental justice, people who are interested in matters of ethnicity or race in this country, people trying to understand what is America. This provides a lens on what this country is, what it's come to be, how it's come to be, and perhaps where it's headed—particularly in the current context where so much of the national discourse is around race, ethnicity, and difference as well as in equity, inclusion, and justice on multiple levels for various populations. If you're a student who has some interest in that current discourse, and you want it to try to gain some perspective on that, then I think you would be really interested in this course.
For example, if you're a student who is really interested in diversity in this country but you really don't think you have a good grasp on why it is that certain groups of people want to maintain their ancestral culture and language and if you're wondering why would anybody wants to do that, why wouldn't they want to just assimilate, why would they want to persist in their ancestral ways, then this course would be a way to gain perspective from the voices of Native North American people and why that's so important.
View ths course
View Themester courses