Ethel Curry Powwow hosts mixed emotions

American Indian Studies professor David Martinez’s tenure was denied.

by Amber Schadewald

The steady beat of the drums rattled chairs and pulsated in the chests of the audience.

Dancers’ feet stomped and swept the floor while their arms sliced the air in a blur of reds, blues and browns.

This year’s Ethel Curry Fall Welcome Feast and Powwow hosted a mix of emotions: joy for the accomplishments of American Indian students and fear of losing a cherished faculty member.

The event celebrated its 10th anniversary Friday at the St. Paul Student Union, honoring the five American Indian students who were awarded the 2006 Ethel Curry scholarship. Dancers in ceremonial attire moved to the music of the drum circles before a crowd of about 300 students, faculty, staff and community members.

Carly Beane, American Indian Studies and history senior, helped organize the event with other members of the American Indian Cultural Center, a University student group. This is only the second year that the event has been put on by American Indian students.

“It’s a great way for us students to show appreciation to the University community and the outside community,” Beane said.

In contrast to a typical awards ceremony, the powwow celebrates values and traditions particular to American Indian heritage, which Beane said helps students feel more comfortable.

“It helps students feel proud of who they are and what they’re doing,” she said.

The Ethel Curry Scholarship offers $3,000 a year for up to four years to motivate American Indian students to reach graduation. Jillian Rowan, chairwoman of the Ethel Curry Scholarship selection committee, said most recipients stay in school.

Charlie Her Many Horses, an art sophomore, was awarded the scholarship last year and said that without the financial incentive, he wouldn’t have come back to school for a second year. Her Many Horses said not only is school difficult, he still doesn’t feel like he fits in at the University.

“I grew up around Native Americans and now I only know about 20,” he said.

Her Many Horses said it’s hard for him to be away from home for so long, but it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make in order to become an art teacher on his reservation.

“I have to (go to school) so that I can go back and help others,” he said.

Her Many Horses said events like the powwow and volunteering at the American Indian Cultural Center help him feel better about being on campus and have allowed him to meet more people who share his culture.

“It all adds up to me staying,” he said.

The powwow also called attention to the importance of keeping knowledgeable faculty in the American Indian Studies department.

David Martinez, an American Indian Studies professor, applied for tenure and was denied. He said his future at the University is uncertain.

American Indian Studies junior Amy Ojibway said students decided to honor Martinez in an effort to acknowledge the importance of individual faculty members.

“It would be really sad to lose one of our really respected professors,” Ojibway said.

The Department of American Indian Studies was established in 1969 and it remains the oldest program of its kind with departmental status in the country.

Even with its rich history, Martinez said he knows of only one other professor who has applied for tenure in the department. No faculty member has received tenure, he said.

Martinez applied last school year and underwent a yearlong evaluation examining three major components: research, teaching ability and community service. Martinez said research was the point of contention.

Ojibway, who has taken multiple classes taught by Martinez, said the University’s focus on becoming a research institution is decreasing the importance of ensuring successful student-teacher relationships.

“(The University administration) focus more on what’s outside and less on what’s happening inside,” she said.

Martinez said he was stunned and disappointed at the University’s decision to deny him tenure. He said he considers it a major blow to American Indians on campus and to diversity.

“This sends a message that even if the University does support diversity, it’s only on their own terms,” Martinez said.

Carly Beane, another one of Martinez’s students, said she doesn’t understand how the University fails to see the importance of Martinez’s scholarly work.

The subjects of his courses are not taught anywhere else, she said.

“My other history classes don’t talk about natives as intellectuals; he does,” Beane said.

Martinez has a University Senate judicial committee hearing this week, where his case will be reviewed.