Emily White Hat ('94, P'14) visited classes in the Social Science Department this past Monday to share her leadership experiences and her expertise on United States government and American Indian relations. As a lawyer for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Emily works in the research center at the NCAI managing large scale research projects and advising tribal leaders on issues facing federally recognized tribes.
In the Environmental Social Science, class Emily framed her discussion with students with a basic history of property rights cases in the Supreme Court, beginning with Johnson vs. M'Intosh in 1823, which defined Indian land rights.
She discussed how a society treats an indigenous people when a new country or land or territory is settled, and she stressed the importance of understanding different world views and the role of cultural identity.
This concept of identity was core to Emily's message. She noted her biggest challenge during her own time at Proctor was helping classmates understand differences between the various tribes represented within the student population on campus. This experience as a student at Proctor fueled her career as one of the nation's foremost experts on Native American land issues. She continually found herself asking, where are you from? What is your identity? What is it about your history that makes you, you?
Searching for an identity permeates our culture today. When we look more closely at Proctor's own community, the same identity search challenges students on a daily basis. We hope, however, the academic curriculum at Proctor encourages students to explore these issues of identity.
On Saturday, Phil Goodnow's AP Human Geography course did just this. Students presented short research projects on endangered languages, targeting different cultures around the world that have been, or continue to be, on the verge of extinction partly due to the impact of globalization in the modern world.
Just as was the case with Native American tribes in the United States during the mid-1800s, many groups around the world are on the verge of losing their languages. AP Human Geography students educated each other on the origins, history, and cultural role of each language, begging the underlying question: how do we best educate the domineering power to value traditional languages?
Emily's answer to this question during her visit last week was a simple, yet powerful message to students, "Civic engagement is so important. Its the only way to create change in the world. Get active. The system under which we operate may not be ideal, but it is what we have. We must better understand our identify and, therefore, responsibility within that system and make it as effective as possible." Hopefully we are encouraging students to do this by valuing individual identity on campus and teaching a world view that places considerable worth on all cultures.