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Shepherd professor gets American Indian study grant

August 11, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Jennifer Penland is an assistant professor of Education and Indigenous Scholar at Shepherd University.
Photo by Richard F. Belisle

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — There are more than 5,000 West Virginians with Native American Indian bloodlines, full-blooded to a fraction, and as recently as 1994, it was against the law for any of them them to buy property.

In order to do so, they had to list their nationality on forms as “black or other instead of Native American,” said Jennifer Penland, assistant professor of education and indigenous scholar at Shepherd University. The West Virginia Legislature passed a bill eliminating the rule in 1994, she said.

Penland is finishing up the requirements of a $1,500 grant to create a media project on “West Virginia’s Invisible People,” the 5,000-plus members of the Appalachia American Indians of West Virginia, or AAIWV. Penland said most are “interracial,” meaning they represent 85 tribes across the state.

“Many belong to two tribes, Cherokee and Shawnee,” she said. “Some speak Cherokee.”

“The AAIWV is a community, not a reservation,” Penland said. “It merges into society. Since the late 1960s, after the civil rights movement, they have been attending public school.”

The West Virginia Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, provided the grant.

“We want to bring significance to the state’s Native American population and incorporate their history into West Virginia history and into our social studies curricula,” Penland said.

One offshoot of the project could see Shepherd education students doing their student teaching in Pueblo schools in the Southwest or bring Native Americans to Shepherd as exchange students.

“Maybe our nursing students can work in Native American hospitals,” she said.

The idea to apply for the grant was prompted by a conversation Penland had last year with someone who did not think there were any Indians in West Virginia.

Penland said she contacted about 25 funding agencies in and out of West Virginia, but the Humanities Council was the only one to provide funds.

“It was a better fit because of its social studies aspect, and it was the best way to get started,” she said.

The project will be finished in January and will result in four DVDs or CDs that will be presented to the AAIWV Tribal Council office in Barboursville, W.Va., the West Virginia State Library and Shepherd University Library. One will be for Penland’s office.

Penland said it might be possible to produce copies for West Virginia history classes in public schools, public libraries, historical societies and media outlets.

Penland interviewed three tribal leaders for the project, including:
· Wayne “Gray Owl” Appleton of Lesage, W.Va., a chemist and environmental scientist, traditional Native American storyteller, principal chief of Appalachia American Indians of West Virginia and co-author of a book of Native American stories
·  Melissa Charlton-Smith, a chemistry teacher at her alma mater, West Virginia Wesleyan College. She is second chief of the AAIWV and, for 15 years, a tribal faith and drum keeper for Women in the Native American Pow-Wows of Mother Earth.
· Lori Glover, a social worker with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. Glover, of Preston County, W.Va., has ties to the Narragansett, Abenaki and Wampanoag tribes. Penland interviewed her about her expertise on the historical and current knowledge on the social and educational issues of West Virginia’s Native American population.

Penland received her Ph.D. from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, in 2007. Before coming to Shepherd for the 2012 fall semester, she most recently was an associate professor at Western Wyoming Community College. She was director of programs at Texas A& M University and an assistant professor at Dickinson State University in North Dakota.

So far this summer, she has visited a Pueblo tribe in Espinola, N.M., Coushatta Indians in southern Louisiana and Texas, a Houma tribe in Louisiana and an Osage medicine man in Denver.

Penland teaches science, math and social studies with an educational component at Shepherd.

“The study of indigenous people is embedded in my classes,” she said. “I try to spark interest in my students in the study of Native American and other cultures.”

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