Tahlequah Daily Press


August 1, 2012

A focus on Cherokee culture

The ‘Summer Abroad’ program provides at-large citizens and others an in-depth look at the Cherokee Nation.

TAHLEQUAH — Cherokee Nation At-Large Tribal Councilor Julia Coates is a staunch supporter of not only tribal sovereignty, but cultural education.

For the past several years, Coates, in conjunction with the Cherokee Nation Foundation and Northeastern State University’s Center for Tribal Studies, has conducted a program that allows people from all over the country a first-hand experience in Cherokee language, art and culture.

Summer Abroad in the Cherokee Nation is a two-week intensive study program that offers four units of college credit to participants through two separate classes – Cherokee Identity and Sovereignty, and Beginning Conversational Cherokee – as well as a number of tours and other cultural activities.

“This year, we had 17 participants, half of whom enrolled in the program for credit,” said Coates. “Besides the two classes, we had two weeks of intensive activities. We basically had them running from dawn to dusk.”

Seventeen students from Arizona, California, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Washington participated in the program.

“The abroad concept means that participants will come to Tahlequah and NSU from outside the area,” said Coates. “When they come here, we want to emphasize that they are entering a nation, hence, they are abroad. The idea behind [the program] is to emphasize the sovereignty of our nation. This is an opportunity, especially for Cherokees living outside the nation, to  learn about it.”

The two-week course ran July 6-21. Language classes were held in the mornings, Monday through Thursday, and student participated in cultural activities in the afternoons and evenings. Over the two weekends, they completed a second course in Cherokee Identity and Sovereignty.

“For nearly 20 years, I have been working with the at-large Cherokee citizenry to develop lines of communication and build bridges between at-large and home Cherokees,” said Coates. “When we talk about Cherokee Nation citizens from other areas, we want to emphasize this is the Cherokee Nation, even though they’re citizens, this is the hub of their government and their cultural homeland.”

NSU Center for Tribal Studies student employees Eric Marshall and Kinsey Shade assisted in the program as hosts. They stayed with the  students in Seminary Suites and helped familiarize them with the campus and Tahlequah.

“I had never met any at-large tribal members from outside the Cherokee national boundaries,” said Marshall. “This is a way for me to learn what they see and feel concerning the Cherokee Nation. They face a lot of different issues than Cherokees within the boundaries. The students still know their ties to the area, and it is exciting to get to know them and create a bond.”

Jason Denny, of California, heard about the class through the Cherokee Society of the Greater Bay Area. He said he had “been waiting for something” which allowed him to visit Tahlequah to learn about and become involved in Cherokee culture.

“I’d done a lot of reading about being Cherokee, and you can talk to relatives,” said Denny. “But until you can come here and take part in these cultural activities with other [citizens], there is nothing quite like it. I was going to take Native American studies at another school, but changed my  mind and now I’m coming to NSU. It just makes more sense.”

Cultural activities included attending a Green Corn dance at the Echota Ceremonial Grounds in Park Hill, a class in pottery making with Cherokee National Treasure Jane Osti, traditional stickball and marble games, and a Keetoowah Day Dance at Stokes Smith Ceremonial Grounds in Sequoyah County.

Jo Robbins, a graduate student at the University of California-Riverside and resident of Phoenix, enrolled in the course for inspiration.

“My daughter is also here attending the Cherokee Nation’s Camp Cherokee Day Camp,” said Robbins. “I found out about this course online, and I am working on a book of poetry about my family and coming home. The language will take me a while, but I already have a half-dozen poems started because of ideas I’ve gotten here.”

According to Coates, the Cherokee Nation Foundation provided scholarship funding for all participants this year. Costs were $1,600 for those participating for college credit, and $900 for non-credit seeking participants.

“NSU gave in-state tuition rates for Cherokee citizens, but, in the end, no one paid any out-of-pocket expenses, thanks to the Cherokee Nation Foundation,” said Coates.

She also expressed appreciation for the efforts of Dr. Phyllis Fife, director of the Center for Tribal Studies, and Dr. Les Hannah, NSU coordinator of Cherokee Cultural Studies, for keeping the program running.

“This is helping to fulfill a dream I and others have had for a long time,” said Coates. “We have wanted to bring together these two elements of the Cherokee citizenry who don’t have many opportunities to interact.”

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