People Of One Fire to begin offering academic courses
Our goal is to tap the combined wisdom and skills of all the Native American descendants (and their friends) in the Southeastern United States in order create a new body of knowledge that can be passed on to future generations. The costs involved will be kept to a minimum so that the widest possible range of people may participate.
During the past 20 years a radical change has occurred in the philosophy of higher education in the United States. State universities and colleges were once subsidized by the taxpayers in order to create bastions of knowledge in a widest possible range of subjects that would be affordable for the widest possible range of students. In 1985, almost any American with a sufficient academic background could afford to get a college degree somewhere . . . under the worst circumstances, graduating with a modest student loan debt that could be paid off in a few years.
That is no longer the case. The astronomical increase in tuition has priced out citizens from the majority of economic backgrounds in the United States. America’s middle class has become its new lower class. Most young people today only have the options of serving in the military first to get veterans benefits, somehow obtaining sufficient scholarships to cover most of the tuition or starting out life with astronomical debt that they will be paying on for most of their lives.
Yes, salaries have been raised modestly for professors and drastically for upper level administrators and some senior professors. The average public college president earned just over $428,000 in 2014, up 7% from a year earlier, according to an analysis of 238 chief executives at 220 public universities from the Chronicle of Higher Education. That’s 3.8 times more than what the average full-time professor makes. However, the total income with bonuses and benefits for the president of a major public university is in the range of $700,000 to $1.4 million. Meanwhile, athletic coaches can now make up to $4 million a year.
At the same time, the average annual tuition at four-year public colleges and universities has increased 29%, or $2,068, since the 2007-8 school year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Total costs for a student range between $30,000 and $100,000 a year.
Many universities have also created vast armies of bureaucracy to fill social engineering functions or research complexes. Though paid more modestly, their salaries are still paid by student’s tuition . . . with questionable benefits for the student.
The end result of this change is the planned creation of a permanent aristocracy like England once had. Primarily the children from affluent families will have the economic assets to obtain the educational credentials to maintain their economic status for the next generation.
Something else is happening as a result of the corporatization of higher education. Disciplines and research that do not result in sufficient incomes to pay back the student loans are withering on the vine. Many of those disciplines are focused on interests that are far more important to indigenous peoples than to corporate North America.
It is no accident that Southeastern Anthropology has fossilized during the same three decades that universities changed their educational philosophies to emulate those of middling corporate administrators. Ethnological research and archaeological investigations do not pay an immediate cash return to stockholders, unless the archaeologists are employees of mega-engineering companies and some law requires that an archaeologist sign off on destruction of an archaeological site prior to a road being built through it.
Virtually all the work done by private sector archaeologists today is at sites that will be destroyed as soon as they leave. In this environment, the mind set has become to minimize any changes to the body of knowledge, because it will mean more work. It is much easier to pump out standardized reports that list the number of potsherds with English names, which were found.
Starting out with baby steps
Obviously, in our modest economic circumstances the People of One Fire cannot evolve overnight into degree granting institution. This probably is not even desirable. What can do, though, is start providing opportunities for indigenous peoples and the general public to study our heritage systematically. For starters, all they will get is new knowledge and a certificate of passing the course . . . much akin to the continuing education courses required for many professions like architects, engineers and teachers.
There will be some costs involved to compensate the teachers, administrators and web site manager, but these fees will be minuscule compared to university tuition. Here is what we plan to offer:
- Tour Guide Certification: Participants will be taken on guided tours of Native American archaeological zones then expected to study a variety of written materials, including books, if available, before taking an exam on each specific archaeological zone. The classes will be taught by anthropologists, architectural historians, architects or retired park rangers. If the exam is passed, students will receive a certificate from the People of One Fire, stating that they are qualified to lead tours for paying clientele in a specific archaeological zone. At that point, they may become independent entrepreneurs with out blessing.
2. Native American Skills and Heritage Certification: Accomplished professional teachers and artisans will teach workshops on a variety of subjects relating to Native American history, survival skills, art and genetics. Those who successfully particapate in the classes and pass the exam will be awarded a certificate.
3. College Credit Independent Study Advisers: Many colleges now offer students the opportunity to do independent study in subjects related to Native American culture then receive course credits, if passed. We hope to create a body of experienced professionals and retired professors, who could function as advisers to these students. This would be a program similar to those used by the Boy Scouts for merit badges.
It should be emphasized that this is not just a Muskogean “thing”. We would like elders, teachers and professionals in all the indigenous peoples of the Southeast to be involved.
The first tour guide class will begin in late fall 2015. This will be for certification to lead visitors to sites on public lands in or near the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia. This is a region that has numerous major archaeological zones that have minimal or no signage, plus no guided tours at present. To be realistic, we will be targeting areas which have extensive tourism and therefore potential income for graduates. The region has millions of visitors each year.
Individual certifications will be for:
- Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark & Leekes Mounds
- New Echota National Historic Landmark
- Nacoochee Valley National Historic District
- Track Rock Terrace Complex and Petroglyphs
- The Apalache towns in North Metro Atlanta
- Pine Log National Historic District
- Cherokee Trail of Tears sites in North Georgia
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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.
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