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Native American Studies in Southeastern Universities

The Status of Native American Studies in Southeastern Universities
It nelly ain’t there!

During the past week, I have been setting up email address files so we can communicate better with the academic community. As you have probably guessed, we have raised the bar on the research reports being made available to the general public. The People of One Fire web site has a lot of credibility now and we are going to use that credibility to seek research grants and/or paying clientele.

The process requires that I go through the bio’s of all history, anthropology, architecture and genetics professors to see who has expressed interest in the culture or history of the indigenous peoples of the Southeast. So far, among history professors, I have found four historians, two of them of Creek decent – the other two are by appearance, Caucasians. No genetics professors expressed interest in Native American DNA. No architecture professors expressed interest in any of the indigenous architecture of the Americas . . . even at my alma mater, Georgia Tech, where I once taught Mesoamerican architecture. Those courses are no longer offered.

Several universities in Oklahoma continue to have strong Native American Studies programs, as might be expected, but Oklahoma is the exception. The University of Georgia does have a Native American studies program that is rebuilding itself as “The Institute of Native America Studies.” It now offers a Minor in Native American Studies, but very few students. Like its predecessor, all of its website is adorned with Cherokee syllabary glyphs. The only tribe mentioned on the web site is Cherokee. At the top is a message that states, “Cherokee is spoken here.” From what we at the People of One Fire have uncovered, perhaps that message should be changed to “Sephardic and Eastern Anatolian is spoken here.” Several of the faculty members listed by the Institute are either deceased now, or have been laid off.

To me the biggest shock was the situation in the anthropology departments. Only web sites of the University of Alabama and University of Southern Alabama openly promote their studies of Southeastern Native American archaeological sites. All the other universities treat the subject as an adopted stepchild that they don’t want to admit having in the house. At most, about 10% of the anthropology professors express an interest in the Southeastern Indians. The ratio of anthropologists specializing in Muslim cultures to indigenous, is about 5:1. Wha fellers thar is gold in them thar Arab oil wells!

Many of the departments have suffered drastic drops in faculty members during the past two years. I found that out by sending emails to professors listed on their web sites from 2012, who turned out to have been laid off in the past year.

The majority of the departments brag about their projects in remote parts of the globe as if there was nothing exciting going on back home. Archeology professors represent small minorities in their anthropology departments. The trendy thing these days is to be interested in aspects of anthropology having to do with ecology, healthcare and agriculture. From reading many of the professors’ biographies, you would think that they were surgeons or experienced corn farmers.

Only the State of South Carolina is investing significant financial resources into its archaeological research. The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology is a first class operation that continues to make major discoveries at such locations as the Topper Site. They got a movie made about their discovery and restoration of the Confederate submarine, Hunley.

It is obvious that the speech I heard in 2004 at the Society of Georgia Archaeology about “we know everything there is to know about the Southeastern Indians. It is time to move on” represents an attitude shared by many anthropologists and archaeologists throughout much of the Southeast. The study of Southeastern indigenous ethnology, architecture and linguistics has died a long painful death caused by atrophy . . . except within the People of One Fire.

There is a vacuum to be filled by the People of One Fire, but to do that we will need financial support. Right now most of the people doing research within our group are only compensated by dribbles of book sales royalties. We need your ideas on how to obtain funds that core researchers can live on.

How about them thar apples?

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

2 Comments

  1. lukasyancee@gmail.com'

    As a university student from a reservation and a member of a nationally recognized tribe- thank you for this post! I remember going to a conference in Washington D.C. during high school and seeing how little everyone knew about life on the reservation and about Native American history in general. It’s sad that such an important part of our history has been shrugged off and replaced with things that people think are more important.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind comments. I never lived on a reservation, and in fact, until Jimmy Carter was elected governor of Georgia, my mother demanded that we keep our Native American heritage a secret from neighbors and strangers. However, right after graduating from city planning, I worked for a firm that assigned me to be a consultant to Native American reservations in the Southeast, Southwest and Northwest. It was an eye-opening experience.

      Reply

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