Stepping Away From Campus and Into a Teepee

From: Public Affairs

JMU students with storyteller Minnie HaHa Custalow on the Mattaponi reservation.

Native American powwows, dancers and authentic food are not on every college student's weekend agenda. However, for James Madison University students who signed up to leave the familiar comforts of campus to participate in the Center for Multicultural Student Services' Native American Indian Immersion trip Nov. 12-14, it was an unforgettable experience.

According to Tracy Lanier, CMSS assistant director, highlights of the trip included a powwow, shooting a bow and arrow, exploring a teepee and eating Native American food.

"The residents of the reservations added a current face to the Native American Indian population," said Lanier. "They were able to speak to the size of the reservations and how the land was distributed and the culture was passed down."

The students traveled to Richmond, Va., to explore the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Indian reservations to witness the basics of the Native American lifestyle. The weekend included a visit to the Henricus Historical Park to experience outdoor colonial structures, followed by a trip to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

"Traveling to the two different reservations allowed the students the chance to interact with Native Americans today who are working to preserve their history and educate others," said Lanier.

The students learned a combination of historical facts and the current plights of Native Americans in Virginia. They gained much knowledge from comparing and contrasting folklore and popular culture’s images of Native Americans with the way this population actually lives and experiences life.

"The interaction with the residents of the reservations showed a true picture of harmony and understanding to the students," said Lanier. "The native people are seeking to be in peace and acceptance with all individuals. This message of understanding and welcoming was one of the most powerful of the trip."

Since 2004, CMSS has sponsored experiential learning trips each fall and spring, allowing students to explore new cultures. ELTs are designed to immerse students in unique and diverse ethnic experiences they may not otherwise be familiar with or have the chance to participate in. CMSS will sponsor an ELT this spring to New York City focusing on Latino culture.

For more information regarding the Native American Immersion Trip and other ELTs, visit CMSS.

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November 17, 2010