History professor Michael Oberg and English professor Caroline Woidat have been teaching Native American studies for 12 years. Their efforts recently led to the creation of a Native American studies minor at Geneseo.
Native American studies programs are popular at universities in the western United States, where the majority of the current American Indian population lives. But Native American history is just as much a part of western New York as the rest of the country. For example, during the American Revolution, villages and food supplies were frequently destroyed during military expeditions, the largest of which was the Sullivan Expedition of 1779 in New York. Along with the homes of loyalists and other supporters of Britain, 40 Iroquois villages were destroyed in order to neutralize Iroquois raids in upstate New York. The expedition failed to have the desired effect: Native American activity became even more determined.
Oberg and Woidat decided that, since there is much to learn and experience about local Native American culture, politics, and history in the greater Geneseo area, the College should, at least, offer a minor.
Oberg became interested in organizing a minor because he is heavily involved with current Native American events, his fourth book on the subject to be published next year. "I worked in native communities in Montana, where I taught from 1994 until 1998, and here as well," said Oberg. "I have served as a consultant for the Tonawanda Band of Senecas in their land claim case related to Grand Island, and as a consultant to the Onondagas in their land claim case," he added. Additionally, Oberg worked for the U.S. Department of Justice, which joined with the Oneidas in an effort to hold New York State accountable for purchases of Indian land that the Supreme Court determined to be illegal.
Woidat's teaching and literary scholarship have also long been concerned with Native American issues. Woidat wrote an essay entitled "The Truth is on the Reservation: Native Americans and Conspiracy Culture," that came out this week in the December 2006 issue of The Journal of American Culture. Woidat explained that the essay is "concerned with the way that Native Americans have been viewed and have viewed the world themselves through the lens of conspiracy theory."
Woidat and Oberg started putting together the N.A.S. minor a few years ago, and it was approved during the 2004-2005 academic year. Fall 2005 saw the kick-off celebration with a reading by Osage poet Carter Revard. "In advance of our work on the minor," Woidat stated, "I reintroduced Native American literature to the curriculum by developing a course back in 1995." Woidat and Oberg first co-taught an American Studies course on the topic in Spring 1999.
Woidat said that it seems vital to have the program in place at Geneseo given its location, and Oberg agrees. "I think that because New York is at the center of many of the controversies emerging in Indian Country, that our school, which is located not far from the site of a Seneca town of the same name, ought to provide our students with an opportunity to develop some familiarity with these issues," Oberg said.
Oberg and Woidat's efforts have been met with warm welcomes from all sectors of the academic community, and the two have received lots of support in putting the minor together. "Everyone we have talked to has been enormously supportive," Oberg mentioned. "I am not sure what more we reasonably could expect. I am very satisfied with the support we have received." Woidat added, "we have met only enthusiasm for the N.A.S. program at Geneseo. The Provost and the departments of English, history, and anthropology have all been very supportive."
The Native American studies minor is now available, with a strong core already in place, and interested students are encouraged to contact either Woidat or Oberg as program coordinators.