Campus members search for cultural programs

Dr. Emery Smith, the UCC Sociology and Anthropology instructor, is hoping to organize a community event located on the UCC campus. The event will be aimed at gathering cultural representatives to speak to students, faculty and other community members in hopes of increasing multi-cultural understanding and acceptance.

“The administration, students, instructors and academic advisors recognize the need to provide the community with cultural programs,” Smith said. “I’ve received exceptional support from the administration.”

As the world becomes ever more globalized, Smith says it is imperative that Americans gain more cultural competency. With nearly every career requiring interaction with members of different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs or cultural upbringings, Americans will need to become more culturally sensitive in order even function as a society.

Smith believes exposure to people from other cultures is required to build understanding and prepare students for the real world. He hopes by allowing students to speak with representatives from other cultures that students will humanize members of that culture.

“[Students] exposed to people who are not like us will see the similarities present in all of us, [and will learn] to value human life not because they are people who look like us, but because they are people.”

He went on to say, “Look at any armed conflict or genocide. It is based almost entirely on ethnicity. If we keep dehumanizing each other, we will not survive.”

Another aspect of American culture that Smith is concerned with is the U.S.’s ever-increasing individualistic nature. As people become more and more distance from one another, many people are looking for that community connection that is being lost.

“Nearly 60 percent of the U.S. lives in cities with more than a quarter-million residents. We’ve become an urban culture. More than 25 percent of our population lives alone, isolated from each other, not by distance but by the intangible walls of our individualistic culture. And this isolation is only growing,” Smith stated.

He went on to explain that Native American culture is strongly community based. In fact, in many of the surviving native languages, there is no word for “I.” “If you live in a community where you depend on each other, those with selfish attitudes die, so there is no need for a word for the individual,” Smith explained.

He feels that exposure to the communal and harmonious nature of Native American culture can positively influence and temper the repercussions for Americans of having the most individualistic culture in the world.

Sociologists are beginning to see a negative impact on family structure and relationships due to this ever-increasing focus on the self within American culture, Smith noted. He explains that people are getting married not understanding that a marriage is a partnership. That is one reason Americans see such a large rate of divorce within the U.S.

According to Smith, more and more people are seeking the feeling of community that has almost been lost in the U.S. “We’ve adopted the attitude that we’re all individuals and we live accordingly, individually and alone,” Smith said.

Fewer than four decades ago, Native American culture was not only condemned but actively purged. The cultural genocide waged against Native Americans wrought terrible consequences, very little of their way of life survived. The European occupation saw to the death of nearly 95 percent of Native Americans. Many tribes’ beliefs, language, culture and history were lost forever. With the stigma of Native American culture slowly fading, the remaining tribes have embraced their past.

“We’re seeing a reclaiming of Native [American] culture,” Smith commented. “Though many Native [American] cultures were completely wiped out, the surviving tribes have begun to borrow practices and rituals from the tribes that were able to hold onto theirs.” For example, Brave Buffalo, a member of the Lakota tribe, brought tribal ceremonies and traditions such as the Sweat Lodge and the Sundance to teach the Northwest tribes that had lost theirs, Smith explained.

“Once a culture is lost, it is gone, forever. And there is nothing that can bring it back,” Smith stated. 

“There is a tremendous market for anything Native [American]. A major part of the new age movement is about connecting with the earth, and many seek that within Native [American] culture. Within the United States, Native [American] art, music, books and even language continue to be much sought after, creating a large market for Native [American] artists,” Smith added.

“Even around the world, Native [American] culture has been embraced. In Germany, where there are no Native Americans, the culture is really big. Sweat Lodges and Native [American] music are becoming really popular. I’ve met several Germans that came here to learn about the culture directly from tribal members,” Smith said.

Interestingly, selling Native American crafts is now illegal unless the works are created by a Native American. 

Dr. Smith hopes to generate ongoing funding for public appearances of both local and nonlocal guests to speak on campus. He is working toward having David West, the Chair of Native American Studies at Southern Oregon University and Native American elder, to visit and speak with students and community members about contemporary Native Americans. Another orator Smith hopes to invite is Esther Stutzman, a Kalapuya Native American living in Yoncalla who records, writes and tells traditional folktales containing moral importance.

“If morality is concern for other human beings, then she brings moral stories,” Dr. Smith remarked.

Dr. Smith would like to invite many more speakers from a variety of cultures and beliefs to speak at UCC. In the past few years, Smith has brought Agnes Baker Pilgrim, better known as Grandma Aggie as well as Fish Martinez a teacher in the Indian Education Program at Toledo High School.

Grandma Aggie is a Native elder and spiritual leader living in Grants Pass, Oregon. She is currently the oldest living member of the Takelma tribe and travels the world as part of the International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. She is a diplomat for Native Americans, meeting with political, religious and spiritual leaders such as the Dalai Lama and working to promote concepts such as healthy living, recycling and harmony. Fish Martinez brought the Toledo drum group to UCC. Martinez and his drummers performed in the Campus Center’s conference room, where they played Native music and allowed audience members to participate. Also speaking with UCC students was the tribal anthropologist for the Cow Creek Band of Indians. She spoke about the importance of Native American sites and the desecration of these sacred locations by vandals and thieves.

For more information, please contact Dr. Emery Smith at (541) 440-7826, or visit his office in JH 4.

The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.