Success Stories

Native culture focus of trip

Miller (left) and VanderLaan

A group of 10 students from a cross-cultural service learning class spent two weeks with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe on a reservation in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. The program, sponsored by the School of Social Work and led by Professor Patricia Stow-Bolea  is now in its fifth year. The students immerse theselves in the history, culture, traditions and inner-workings of the tribe -- and they describe the experience as unforgettable.
     
The first few days of the trip were spent receiving teachings from director Shannon Martin at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways, about the tribe's history  and their cultural practices. Katrina Miller, a senior in the social work program, found those first days to be extremely emotionally-draining but also extremely valuable.
    
"I felt exhausted every day when we went back to the hotel feeling stuffed with information. It definitely gave us all a lot to think about. Those few days alone were enough to change my outlook on so much," Miller said.
     
The students learned about the boarding schools that served as a government-imposed 're-education' program that took Native American children from their families, attempted to purge them of their native culture and traditions, and forced them to assimilate into white society. The students were raised in an atmosphere that taught them that who they were and what they believed in was wrong, uncivilized and outright evil, explained Karen VanderLaan, a graduate student in the School of Social Work.
     
"Recently, as a testament to the culture's strength and resiliency, there has been a revitalization movement to renew the language and traditional ceremonies and practices throughout the Native American community," VanderLaan said.
     
For the remaining days of the trip, the students rotated between the different agencies of the reservation learning and experiencing how each agency works. "We now know more about the native culture and how to best serve them in the field of social work. This is a major advantage for both the social work community and the native community as well," Miller said.
    
 To keep the momentum from the trip going, VanderLaan and Miller have been passing on their newfound cultural knowledge and awareness to family members, friends and their fellow students.  They also will be presenting in November at the 2009 Great Lakes History conference with Bolea and another student from the trip. This year's theme is Indigenous Peoples of the Globe: Colonization and Adaptation and is on November 13-14 in the Eberhard Center. For more information,  visit www.gvsu.edu/history.
     
"This was more than just a two-week trip I took for a class. It has definitely changed me in some ways and will continue to be a part of me," Miller said. "Even though the trip ended months ago, I still find myself hungry for more and continue to search for more knowledge about it. There is so much to learn and so many willing to teach me," Miller said.

VanderLaan agreed, adding: "The trip has had an irrefutable impact on me; I'm forever grateful for this opportunity, for everyone involved with making it happen, anyone who contributed in any way while we were there, and for the people that I shared this life changing experience with," VanderLaan said.

by Abby Hartig