A Native Niche
Visit by Navajo students boosts diversity-recruitment efforts and scholarly prospects
by Sherri Kimmel
October 3, 2011
Before participating in the prayer ceremony on June 6, Lynette Hardy, second from the left, lined up with her fellow St. Michael Indian School students as well as a past student and past parent.
An opportunity to connect with their past—albeit one weighted down with sorrow—opened the eyes of some Navajo high-school students to new possibilities. In early June, 23 students from St. Michael Indian School in Arizona arrived at the college for a campus tour, luncheon and presentation on the history of the Carlisle Industrial Indian School by Barbara Landis, the Cumberland County Historical Society’s Indian School biographer.
After hearing about the forced assimilation of more than 12,000 Indian youths between 1879 and 1918, the students traveled to the U.S. Army War College, site of the legendary boarding school, to hold a prayer ceremony. Accompanying them were Susan Rose ’77, the professor of sociology and director of the Community Studies Center (CSC) who organized the half-day event on Dickinson’s campus, Landis and several other Dickinson faculty and staff, as well as faculty from neighboring institutions and the University of New Mexico.
Among the students’ five chaperones was Evelyn Begody P’12, mother of a current St. Michael student and Dickinson senior Sheldon Begody. “Dickinson has eased my life in many ways—has taken good care of my daughter,” Begody said. She noted that three rising seniors at St. Michael would like to follow Sheldon to Dickinson, which had six students of Native American and Alaska Native heritage attending last academic year.
One prospective Dickinsonian is Lynette Hardy, who lives on the Navajo Nation reservation in Window Rock, Ariz. When she visited the college in June, “I felt a welcoming vibe,” she said. “I got to know some of the teachers, and they were very friendly.” Coming from Arizona, she was attracted to the campus greenery and felt the science facilities and study-abroad opportunities would meet her needs nicely.
Knowing that at least one other Navajo student was attending Dickinson was reassuring. “It gives me a comfort feeling to have a little support from someone who is the same ethnicity I am,” Hardy related.
Being one of only a handful of Navajos at the college could seem daunting, but Hardy sees it as an opportunity to expand the horizons of students who may not have encountered Native Americans before. “People think of stereotypes of Native Americans. No, we don’t live in teepees; we’re more modern. I’d like to provide more knowledge of what Native Americans are today.”
Hardy, who is vying for valedictorian this year, is working on essays that she hopes will qualify her for the Chief Manuelito Scholarship, which provides $7,000 yearly for high-achieving Navajo high-school graduates to apply to college expenses. She also enjoys playing volleyball and basketball, running track, riding horses and spending time with her tribal elders.
“I truly hope that our rising seniors take advantage of our new familiarity with Dickinson and apply to Dickinson,” said Joan Levitt, the St. Michael’s English teacher who accompanied the students to Carlisle. “Dickinson’s reputation for offering the opportunity to study around the world is especially exciting for our students. Collaborating with international students, including other indigenous people, is a terrific draw.”
Stephanie Balmer, vice president for enrollment and marketing and communication, also hopes Dickinson proves to be a strong draw for Navajo recruits. “We welcomed these guests to Dickinson as they continued their journey to the former Carlisle Indian School,” she said. “It was a blessing, as Dickinson seeks to expand curricula and diversity within the student body. I’m elated by their interest and recognition of what they could bring to Carlisle.”
Carlisle—and Dickinson—have proved not only to be a draw to Native American students but scholars—both Native and non-Native.
Jackie Fear-Segal of the University of East Anglia in England had used Dickinson’s CSC as a base when she was preparing her award-winning book about the Indian School, White Man’s Club: Schools, Race and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation.
She and CSC Director Rose collaborated on a documentary film called The Lost Ones: Long Journey Home that centered on two Lipan Apache students. Daniel Castro Romero Jr., leader of the Lipan Apache, came from Texas to Carlisle in 2009 to perform a ceremony of blessing for the members of his tribe who’d attended the school in the 1880s. He also contributed to the film, which Rose has shown at conferences nationally and internationally.
Next fall, Romero and Fear-Segal will return for an indigenous-studies symposium organized by Rose and sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Consortium, a partnership of Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall and Gettysburg colleges. Titled Carlisle, PA: Sites of Indigenous Histories, Memories and Reclamations, the symposium will enable artists, oral historians and scholars to share their perspectives, says Rose.
Jill Ahlberg Yohe, a visiting scholar at Franklin & Marshall College who attended the Navajos’ June prayer ceremony, is helping to plan the symposium. She believes it will “provide a setting for a host of people to talk about important contemporary and historical issues present in Indian country today.”
It also will be a chance for local scholars to come together, Yohe said. “There are so many people working in parallel ways on parallel themes and issues, but we become isolated in our own community and colleges.”
Dickinson and Carlisle are the ideal site for such a gathering, she said, because “so many people, in one way or another, are connected to Carlisle through their own schooling, community or both.”
Rose agrees: “Carlisle is a major site of memory because of the boarding school. This is a place of sorrow and grief, though some people did experience some good things here. Dickinson is wants to acknowledge the history of which we are a part.”
For more on Dickinson’s connection to the Carlisle Industrial Indian School, read “Carlisle Connections,” “Reconstructing Lives” and “The Last Living Link.” In addition, two years ago a group of Lipan Apaches traveled to Carlisle to stage a ceremony of blessing for two relatives who, 130 years earlier, had been removed from their family and taken to the Indian School.