MTSU’s Honors College will host the Spring 2015 lecture series every Monday from 3:00 p.m. to 3:55 p.m. in the Paul W. Martin, Sr. Honors Building.
Native American Culture is the theme of upcoming presentations, organized by the Associate Dean of the University Honors College, Dr. Philip Philips.
Professor of Anthropology at MTSU, Dr. Kevin E. Smith, began the series on Feb. 2, issuing a light-hearted challenge to his audience.
Gifts from The People: The Cultural Legacy of Native America challenged listeners to re-imagine the origins of some of our most common foods and daily language. The presentation included several photographs of plants, historical landmarks and Native Americans that made incomparable contributions in several occupations.
America’s national cuisine, in addition to staples within Italian and British tradition, wouldn’t exist as they do today without the historical domestication of plants by native people. Potatoes, squash, tomatoes, peanuts and even cashews were grown and preserved. Natives originally domesticated 3/5 of our plants and provided us with the foods we most commonly associate with the Thanksgiving holiday.
Recognizing the global impact of native people is imperative in preserving cultural tradition as well as the spoken word. The origin of animal names such as chipmunk and raccoon, among other woodland mammals, come from Eastern Algonquin languages. Half of the states’ names in the U.S. share an historical significance with the tribes that once occupied the now defined space. Lakes, rivers, valleys, and other land formations share equally unique titles originating from native people.
Contributions vary from the scientific field to militaristic endeavors within Native American history, but all share in the experience of cultural assimilation. Charles Eastman for example, later called Ohiyesa, attended Boston University to become a physician for his Santee Dakota community. Susan La Flesche Picotte, like Eastman, used skills acquired in an American institution to improve the lives of her Omaha community. She is considered the first female Native American physician; a civil rights success story in the latter 19th and early 20th century.
Dr. Kevin E. Smith concluded a refreshing and enriching presentation with a reminder to preserve and remain cognizant of the many cultures that surround our daily lives. The refashioning and assimilation of a culture to fit with modern standards is destructive when cultural knowledge is lost. Watering down Native history to make sense of it through a Western lens of interpretation only perpetuates the myth of the vanishing Indian. Authentic Native American culture isn’t lost, yet is in constant danger of being misrepresented, misinterpreted, and eventually under-valued by a dominant culture.
The lecture series will continue February 9th with Dr. Drew Sieg’s From Ethnobotany to Natural Products Chemistry: Using Native American Folklore as a Source for New Medicines.
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