Tom Hatley, Western's Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies.

CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University's Cherokee Studies Program has launched a three-year project to create partnerships between Western and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and to increase the participation of Cherokee scholars, artists and leaders in the university's intellectual and cultural life.

The Sequoyah Initiative, funded in its first year through a $200,000 grant from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, will allow Western to move to a new level of student service, diversity, teaching, research and community partnership with the Cherokee people, said Tom Hatley, Western's Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies.

During joint meetings involving Cherokee and university leaders, it became clear that the Cherokee community is focused on protecting its land, caring for its people, and developing its economy without losing what makes the community distinctive, Hatley said.

“Western is well-positioned to work with the Eastern Band in areas ranging from health care to technology and from history to language programs,” Hatley said. “We have strong ties with Cherokee leaders, agencies and non-profit organizations, and the university's Cherokee Center is expanding its programs to meet community needs. Making lasting connections to the Eastern Band will offer remarkable opportunities for enriching the diversity, intellectual community and regional service mission of our university.”

Western and the Eastern Band “have been collaborating successfully for a very long time, with help from Dr. Myron Coulter, the retired chancellor of the university who served as founding chairman of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation's board of directors,” said Susan Jenkins, foundation executive director.

“We are excited about the new directions of the Cherokee Studies Program and how the university is expanding its engagement with the Eastern Band,” Jenkins said. “Western's Cherokee Studies Program is already strong, but it promises to become one of the very best Native American studies programs in North America.”

One component of the Sequoyah Initiative that already has been implemented is an Elder-in-Residence Program to serve Cherokee students enrolled at the university, Hatley said.

Two Cherokee elders, Freeman Owle and Tom Belt, have been hired to serve as mentors and advisers for Cherokee students, and are keeping regular office hours on campus. “Both men bring a considerable amount of educational experience to Western, as well as a wealth of knowledge about Cherokee history and culture,” Hatley said.

Belt said the population of Native American students at Western numbers about 150, and about 100 of those students are from the Qualla Boundary, home of the Eastern Band. He said Native American students have never been as involved in campus life as they should be at Western, but he and Owle hope to change that situation.

“Native American students have a lot to offer the university, and Western has a lot of academic resources to offer the students,” Belt said.

Other goals of the initiative are to bring to Western's campus “eminence scholars” -- Cherokee elders and artists -- to teach traditional knowledge on a long-term basis, and to recruit Native American students across the nation to come to Western to work on their master's degrees in Cherokee Studies through new $12,000 Sequoyah Assistantships, Hatley said.

The Cherokee Studies Program faculty hopes to enhance teaching and learning opportunities by establishing partnerships with other institutions, Hatley said. “We are developing exchanges and joint initiatives in areas such as language with Northeastern State University and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. We plan to use models and expertise that have already been developed for the preservation and dissemination of traditional knowledge,” he said.

Other goals are to create new opportunities for students through internships and residency programs with Cherokee cultural, environmental and educational offices, and to build Western's research holdings in two main areas – Cherokee language and natural resources, Hatley said.

Juanita Wilson, deputy administrative officer for the Eastern Band, said she envisions a strong partnership developing between Western and the Cherokee community through the activities of the tribe's Youth and Adult Education Department.

“We are in the planning stages of establishing an education center that will be the centerpiece of post-secondary education and training offered locally, and I see Western, as well as other institutions, becoming partners with the Eastern Band to bring education to the local community,” Wilson said.

“Through the Sequoyah Initiative, Western is making a visible investment in the future of the Cherokee people.”

Some physical improvements being planned through the Sequoyah Initiative include the renovation and expansion of Cherokee Center facilities in Cherokee.

Joining Hatley in leadership positions in the Sequoyah Initiative are Jane Eastman, director of the Cherokee Studies Program; Roseanna Belt, Cherokee Center director; and Carrie McLachlan, Cherokee Studies coordinator.

For more information about the Sequoyah Initiative and Western's Cherokee Studies Program, contact the program office at (828) 227-3841 or view the program's Web site at http://www.wcu.edu/cherokeestudies/ .

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Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2005
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