The Native Road to the Deep North II

June 18

ImageWe head to Seward. On the road, we stop at Exit glacier. The hike to the base of the glacier is less than a mile, but along the way, we walk through time. We pass where it used to be centuries ago. Signs mark the path with dates from years long past, from when ice still covered the land here, and rinsed it fresh with water. But as the forest path gives way to a younger trail of rock and stone, the dates become too recent. Ken remembers when you could walk right up to the glacier hundreds of feet beneath the gray precipice on which we arrive and look down. Far below us, the glacial ice is melting, dripping, retreating little by little. What will happen to the rivers below when it disappears? This is a living behemoth of pleistocene memory, and like the memories of our human elders, it is slowly fading away. What happens to the memory of ice when it turns into water, I wonder? Does it remember, like blood and bones?

The old ice
reawakens and starts
to disappear

We walk back, and continue on the road to Seward. When we arrive, we set up camp, and after a dinner of Wei’s campfire fajitas and beans, we fall asleep under the night sunlight. In our dreams, the gray dusk finally fades to black, and the sun falls behind the mountains.

Kyle Bemis
Ph.D. Student, Statistics



The Native Road to the Deep North I

NativeRoad-I-1June 17
The midnight sun is a companion to the people. It rises and sets to the heartbeat of a different kind of time: one set by the creep of ice and the break of earth. The black mountains that rise from the roiling seas and turn green with grass and forests and white with snow caps before they etch themselves across the sky: these are the rhythms of a dream. Long have we sought to share this world dreamt and lived by our brothers and sisters in the deep north where all of us once tread, long ago, on our many long journeys home. Even for us, this sojourn is a kind of homecoming. Because this is their home: the Athabascans and the Yup’ik and the Tlingit and the Unangan and the Haida, and so many others. We are here to hear their stories and their readings of the land they’ve known since the beginning, in this time as the earth is changing, and its shape is still a vision waiting to be imagined.


Summer mountains breathe
time streams of ancient water—
Alaska’s children


We step into Alaska from the airport in Anchorage, and the road into that world stretches so deep and wide before us. We sleep in the city tonight, before heading into the wild.

Kyle Bemis
Ph.D. Student, Statistics

Greetings from Alaska

Greetings! I’m Liz Hansen and one of the students on the Geology Field Course taking place in Alaska. As a past student on the field course trips, it’s a bittersweet experience since this will be our last year. I’ve really formed some great relationships with faculty and students over the last four years. Just a bit about me, I am a third year veterinary student and have been very fortunate to be invited on these two week excursions. I try to offer any animal/veterinary information when I can, but it’s a nice break to learn something different now and then. My trip began on Tuesday, June 17th by flying out of Indianapolis to Chicago and finally into Anchorage. Since this was mostly a travel day, our students would be flying in from all across the continental U.S. The caravan officially left Anchorage for Seward Wednesday morning with a couple stops along the way.  Of course with any stop, we had our geology lesson given by Dr. Ken Ridgeway. Glacier formation and plate movements are important for land and mountain formation.

Day three of our trip was spent on an 8.5 hour boat ridge through the Kenai and Fjord National Park. The weather could not have worked out any better for us and we were able to see a variety of marine animal life. Among the animals that we saw were sea otters, porpoises, killer whales, seals, and even humpback whales! The end of boat ride ended with our very own humpback whale show followed by an all-you-can-eat prime rib and salmon dinner.

Summer in Beijing

Greetings from Beijing!

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer wherever you are. I’m in Beijing for the next four weeks. I’m teaching 2 history classes at Beijing Normal University. This is my third summer teaching in China and my second year in Beijing. The flight over was pretty uneventful—just long—thirteen hours. I don’t sleep on planes, so it’s a time to read and watch a lot of movies. I get over jet-lag pretty quickly—so I’m just about adjusted here.  Beijing is a city on a scale that few people who live in the US can imagine. It boggles my mind that any group of humans of this size can co-exist in close proximity without chaos ensuing everyday.

I did want to share something with you today about China’s recent history. June 4th is the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in which 300+ protesters were killed by government forces. The protest that occurred in 1989 reflected the increasing frustration  of a largely younger generation against the restrictions and controls of the PRC (Peoples Republic of China) and the Communist Party. Since the 1970s China and the US (due in part to the diplomacy of Richard Nixon and Zhou En Lai) enjoyed open relations that benefited both nations economically. Despite this modernization in China, the social and economic reforms expected for the Chinese people did not occur. This frustration against the CCP exploded in a series of public protests throughout China’s cities and culminated in the protests taking place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. CNN live coverage reached new levels in international reporting. Images of people, signs, images of the Statue of Liberty made headlines around the world. But the most searing image was the footage of a young man standing up to an approaching tank, a force of human conviction facing off against the military power of the Chinese Communist Party.

In the aftermath of the protests, thousands were imprisoned. The government crackdown on dissidents was rapid and highly successful. Today 25 years later the students I teach have little to no knowledge about the event or its global significance. It remains a forbidden subject and those who keep the memory alive in their voices, writing, and art continue to face the threat of imprisonment. As the anniversary approaches here in Beijing, the military presence is highly visible in anticipation of any minor or major demonstrations. As I sit here at my desk at the university, just a short subway ride from the square, I wonder if I will even know what happens there in the coming hours due to suppression of any media coverage or freedom of information. I’ve decided not to ask students to remember or write about the event in class today. Partly because of concerns over my own welfare, but also because I do not want to place the students in a position in which they feel threatened. To speak about Tiananmen is against the law.

One thing to add . . . due to censorship I am unable to post this to the NAECC blog myself—I’ve asked Deb to do it on my behalf. My access to the NAECC travel blog is blocked by the Chinese Communist Party. You along with thousands and thousands of other websites, seem to be a threat to China’s national “security.” We, the citizens of the U.S., are a fortunate people under any circumstances. And with that comes a responsibility to do what we can to make the world a better place to live for everyone.

Take care and be in good health.


Dr. Dawn G. Marsh
Associate Professor
Department of History
Purdue University

The greatest compliment you can give them is eating their food.

For Osages, there is one thing that brings us together every year; In.lon.shka. An oversimplified  explanation of In.lon.shka is that it is a dance. No pictures are allowed. It is not something to be recorded, just experienced. In that spirit I wont share much about the dance. Instead, I’ll share another side of In.lon.schka, and that it is bringing people together….around food.

Osages, like most people, love to eat, but few others probably derive as much satisfaction out of feeding others. Before every dance is a meal, and before every meal is hours of preparation around open fires, outside in the middle of an Oklahoma June. Kitchens, mostly outdoor ones, are the first place people come together during the ceremonies and the last place before they part.

Studie Blog

When it comes time to eat, there are anywhere from 20 to 300 people feed. When you arrive, the tables are set with a plate to eat from, a bowl to drink from, and a spoon to shovel with. The food is usually the traditional meatpies, steamfry, frybread and some fruit or vegetables, but what is cooked doesn’t matter as much as how it is eaten. Everyone sits down at the same time except for the cooks. While it would be more efficient, there is no buffet.  All the food is placed on the table, there is a prayer, and then the clanking of spoons starts. If a dish runs out, a cook will usually be there to fill it.  When your done, you can thank the cooks, but the greatest compliment you can give them is eating their food.

Raymond “Studie” Redcorn (Osage)
Sloan Scholar

Tumbling Toward Yellowstone Final – And of the Native American Dream…

We went to Yellowstone. We did.

But I won’t bore you with the details of that, because they’re details you could find in any tourist guide or travel book, and that’s not what’s important here.

The point is we went searching for the Native American dream, and to understand the way this twisted world and our machinations and industry on the body of the earth have changed and corrupted and re-inspired it, and where it lies today, and a path toward hope. We came looking for a glimpse of a dream, or perhaps a nightmare, and somewhere along the way, dizzy, dirty, and overwhelmed, we lost track of it.

While we were doing things like looking for fossils of ancient, esoteric sea creatures in the rugged, rocky hills on the road to Cody (and ending up chasing horny toads instead) where the sleek, brown teeth of prehistoric squid lay sprawled across the pebbles like so many seashells, or while we were standing dangerously on the edges of cliffs at Devil’s Kitchen (or Devil’s Lunchbox as Patrick often called it) where the painted canyon below us spilled out in an overflow of pastel colors and wild, jagged formations that looked like a madman’s map of Mordor, or while we were looking at waterfalls and massive, man-made dams at the edge of Yellowstone and climbing hills we weren’t supposed to, to look down at the great crowd of students we were supposed to be watching, or while we were shivering and wrapped in sleeping bags on the icy, windy shores of this great, ocean-sized lake that appears out of nowhere in the center of the caldera that is Yellowstone and greets you like the arctic sea, while we were walking amidst the hot springs and geysers that funnel boiling water from under the earth and reek of sulfur and cover the blue sky in thick, gray steam, while we were waiting for the bison we’ve been looking for for so long to cross the roads while tourists took tens of hundreds of pictures, while we were hiking along the circumference of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and gazing in awe at its walls of yellow stone for which Yellowstone wasn’t named, while we were chasing bears and hitting antelopes and herding high schoolers…

The truth is I left Yellowstone more than a month ago. We drove down to Salt Lake City in the long, restless PM, and took a plane out the next morning, and finally returned home to Indianapolis, red-eyed and sleepless, after an eight hour layover in Denver. The journey was finished, but the story wasn’t over yet. Something was missing.

So here I am, sitting in my cool, air-conditioned apartment in West Lafayette, on the third day of classes re-starting, sipping green tea and listening to music from the stereo speakers attached to my HDTV, staring at an article about how 2,000 acres of land in the Black Hills called Pe’ Sla, an area sacred to the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Arikara, and Arapahoe, is about to be auctioned off by a private owner to the highest bidder. The tribes have raised money in hopes of buying back the land once taken from them and still sacred to them, but the “property” is expected to sell for approximately eight times the value they’ve raised. The state of South Dakota will likely put a road directly through the sacred areas, and open the land for private development.

This is not the Native American dream.

On our last nights out there, in our cabins in West Yellowstone, we sat and talked in hushed tones about all the things we’d seen. The sadness. The greed. The hopelessness. The false hope. The despair. The futility. The beauty. The reaping and weeping.

We talked about Leon, the Lakota small business owner we met on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, who owns a small but popular coffee shop. He’d talked to us about his struggles on and off the reservation. His attempts to do things that weren’t designed to be done, here and elsewhere. His return to the reservation. His opening of the coffee shop. Today, he is successful. He’s writing a book. There is a glimmer of the dream.

I wonder if he knows about this auction. I wonder if he’s tried to do anything. I wonder if there’s anything he can do. (I know he can make a damn good cup of coffee.)

The stars on those nights out there were clear, but the future they foretold was not.

As I sat there, listening to my friends and compatriots on the journey, I began to wonder if we weren’t misguided from the very beginning. We came this way in search of answers, but we’ve found only scars and scar tissue and more unanswered questions. We’ve learned so many things, but we still don’t understand what they mean. We don’t understand a thing. The things we’ve learned along the way are the smoke of a distant signal fire, but where does it lead? It’s dim, and there’s a storm in the distance and a flood at our backs, but though the rain will muddy and obscure the little trail we’re on, it’s what’s needed to invigorate the earth beneath our feet. The smoke and the distant fire we see is a sign that though the path we tread may be a lonely one, there have been others on it before us, and we are not alone. We are never alone. And we need to get there, to tend the fire at the other end of this rocky path, and keep it lit, and kindle it to burn brighter for those that follow us. The people we’ve talked to are waiting for us. The dreams of so many are waiting on us.

I think maybe we were wrong — maybe I was wrong — to think that we’d find a dream of any kind out there. What we found were memories. Or maybe prayers. But maybe we needed to go out there to find the dream within us. Maybe I needed to go.

To learn what needs to be done. To learn what should not be done. To learn from the successes and failures and mistakes. To learn from the tears shed and the stories behind them. To rediscover things forgotten, but never lost. That some things we can never buy back, but some things we can change. That you can sell your soul, but never your heart.

I hope one day to return to the Black Hills and walk in Pe’ Sla, as I walked up Bear Butte, on its stony paths lined with trees with branches tied by ribbons of prayer, where no wars were ever fought and no battles ever joined, where people went for peace, and where all tribes could go to talk to the wind and the earth. I hope I can bring my children to a place that isn’t a parking lot, where we don’t need water slides to feel the rush of energy, and the stars are clear and the future is bright.

I don’t know what will happen, but I can hope.

But we know it’s not enough to keep hoping.

So we will keep working. There is a dream to be tended. Our friends are waiting.

Kyle Bemis
Sloan Scholar, Statistics

“Update: Two days after the writing of this post, the auction of Pe’ Sla was cancelled by the owners for reasons they declined to make public; the sacred land remains private property, publicly listed, and its ultimate fate remains uncertain.”