Wednesday, June 14, 2017

HPAIRI's Next Steps

I fought to keep our land, our water and our hunting grounds – today, education is the weapon my people need to protect them.” – Chief Washakie

James Trosper - being interviewed by World Wisdom
The Shoshone Chief’s prophecy serves as a reminder of the power education can bring to a people. Beginning this summer, Native American students and the High Plains American Indian Research Institute, HPAIRI, will have a physical home at the University of Wyoming in an American Indian center, which will bring new life to the Chief’s words. Laramie will again be home to a place that honors the Native American tradition through research, culture, and learning as the land on which the center sits once belonged to the Northern Arapahoe.  The center and HPAIRI will be led by Washakie’s great-great grandson, James Trosper, who takes the reins from tireless advocate Judy Antell. Antell leaves the University of Wyoming three years after coming out of retirement to serve as HPAIRI’s first director. She is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation, and the founding director of the American Indian Studies program.

Under Antell’s guidance, HPAIRI established a reciprocal relationship between the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone people, of the Wind River Reservation, and the University of Wyoming. This relationship enabled the exchange of information and ideas and today the Institute serves as an information clearinghouse and as a facilitator for researchers wishing to work on the reservation. It maintains a catalog of resources and information on research completed on the Wind River Reservation, and provides a campus voice for the tribes’ interests. Wyoming EPSCoR became involved with HPAIRI in 2012 through funding the creation of a web-based inventory of UW research conducted with tribal communities and co-funding the establishment of a gathering place on campus for Native students.

Trosper’s involvement with HPAIRI and the new Native American center spans 20 years and was sparked by the energy, conversation, and ideas generated at the Indian Education Office on campus. That involvement also allowed him to appreciate the power of and advocate for student voice in the formation of a center. Meetings with college students and young people on the reservation allowed Trosper to hear students’ hopes fears and aspirations for the future. These meetings guided the vision for a center on campus. He knew it needed to be a community space that would help ease the transition to college for Native students who often feel isolated in the more individualistic university setting.

Sitting around a table with these two is something special; it is a lesson and gift. They share aspirations for the program, invite the listener into their vision, and speak of the future warmly and with affection. Listening to their mutual respect is unique. Upon inheriting the role of directorship from Antell, Trosper explained the value and wisdom elders can contribute to a program as a gift to the future. He intends to continue to honor Antell and her vision for HPAIRI as it develops a physical presence on campus. In addition he will infuse some of his own detail in the larger picture. Today there is a center; it is a home on campus from which to build community. There is a kitchen table around which students can share a meal and conversation. It is the coming together of people, fellowship, and stories that knit a community and that we hope will allow the University and HPAIRI to honor Chief Washakie’s words.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Carving Out A Sense of Place

The Annual EPSCoR Essay Contest was held at the end of the spring semester. This year's writing prompt was "Carving Out A Sense of Place" and saw over 20 submissions on the topic. For the first time, the undergraduate and graduate students wrote on the same prompt. The winner in each category received a $500 honorarium and the essays will be highlighted in EPSCoR's fall newsletter. But readers, rest assured you do not have to wait to enjoy their work - Scroll down for each essay.

Undergraduate Essay, Sans Water Sans Life was written by recent Global and Areas Studies and Spanish graduate Tyler Julian from Sheridan, WY.

Water dictates life in the western United States. Transplanted Wyoming writer, Gretel Ehrlich, spends a chapter of her memoir writing about water, arguing, “It carries, weightlessly, the imponderable things in our lives: death and creation. We can drown in it or else stay buoyant, quench our thirst, stay alive.” It is in this sense that I, too, have come to understand water. Water to Wyoming is a dangerous, carving element. Too much water and the red Wyoming clay gives way, washing out roads and buildings; too little and the clay cracks and the thin layer of dust is blown away in all directions. Still, a good, wet spring rejuvenates our sagebrush plains, filling irrigation ditches and swelling rivers with clear, clean water. In this way, Wyomingites recognize the challenge and promise of water and view it with apprehension. The State Constitution explicitly outlines water rights, many of us cannot swim, old-timers never visit the coasts for fear of the oceans, and it is rare for summers to pass by without news of drownings. It guides our lives as it presents the front of either death or creation. In a yet unpublished poem of mine, I wrote of a dried up creek in summertime:

Crossing over Elkhorn Creek,
sans water,
sans life,
the highway unfolds ahead,
sans traffic,
sans emotion,
            From day to day,
finding solace,
takes a different road;
this highway,
welcoming yesterday,
is like Elkhorn Creek today,

Possibly reflecting unconsciously on Ehrlich’s words, I found her Wyoming solace, restorative and life-giving, thinking of water as I drove along I-90. The highways of Wyoming, surprisingly freeing in there openness, did not cut it for me that day, and the hope that a full streambed offers seemed just out of grasp as I grappled with a profound melancholy. Still, there is a hope in this poem, in the empty creek. I realize as I reflect on the poem now, you cannot drown in an empty creek, and the promise of the water to come sustains the hardy life of our isolated state. We will eventually quench our thirst, God and nature willing, when the rivers fill, and that is a wonderfully hopeful expectation. Water has a certain level of control over us out here, but all we have within our control is our attitude towards life. I am choosing one of hope as I wait for the spring storms to fill the ditches of my life.

Graduate Essay Oasis Among the Clouds was written by Cody Perry who recently received his PhD from the College of Education in Curriculum and Instruction. Cody is from Otis Colorado. 

My wife and I were sitting at home on a warm, calm, sunny day, without any obligations, homework, or work to tend to.  It seemed like months or even years since we could sit back and relax, but we would have regretted missing the wonderful weather.   We decided to go hiking in the mountains to take advantage of our free time and the lovely day.  The route I had scouted was recently damaged by wildfire and we wanted to see how the flora and fauna were recovering from the devastation.  I was not exactly honest with my wife about the terrain, length, and difficulty of the hike, which would soon prove to be an obstacle to completing our trek.  We packed some bottled water and granola bars and set about traversing the wild and wonderful mountains.  As we progressed we witnessed trees that had been twisted and charred by the fire.  However, we also noticed the glorious, bright wildflowers and grasses coming up as if nothing had happened.  These living organisms had received the rains and ample sunshine to show the resilience of nature.  As we hiked further and further, the terrain became more steep and treacherous.  My wife was not pleased with my subterfuge, but I kept convincing her to forge ahead.  We periodically stopped to rest and quench our thirst with cold, crisp water and satiate our appetites with the granola bars.  After each of these respites, we renewed our energy and resolve and pressed on toward the summit.  At one point, my wife was ready to give up and turn back, but some other hikers were coming down and told us that the arduous task was well worth the payoff at the end of the journey.  We hiked along dusty trails, climbed over granite boulders, and tread lightly over loose gravel as we continued our ascent.  The water we had consumed earlier reappeared as droplets of perspiration on my wife’s forehead and torrents of sweat on what seemed like my entire body.  As we climbed higher, the air became thinner and our thirst grew.  Our breaks became more frequent so we could consume the life-giving water we had brought with us. 

As we neared the end of our journey, the trail became harder to see and we began to wonder if we had taken a wrong turn.  However, as my wife became more adamant about giving up and I began to wonder if she was right, we saw a small wooden marker announcing we only had a quarter of a mile to go.  As we looked forward and up, that last stretch seemed to be the hardest part of our trip, but the prospect of reaching the top kept us trudging along.  We resolved to continue and encouraged one another with the sign and remembered the other hikers’ advice. Our muscles ached, our sweat poured, and the sun bared down upon us, but we slowly made the final push to the top.  As we crested the top of the final ascent, we saw that the entire summit was a granite behemoth that had been rounded by gale force winds.  However, there was a small stand of trees that was hiding a glorious oasis of fresh, clean water.  The small pond filled with glasslike water had carved out its own home in the center of the rock.  As we sat down and looked down the opposite precipice, we saw the burned trees interspersed with greens, yellows, blues, reds, and purples of the plants reestablishing their dominance of the landscape.  We dipped our toes in the frigid waters of the pond and slaked our thirst with the bottles of water we had brought with us.  While we realized our return trip would tax our physical stamina, we relished in the beauty of being at apex of our hike.  As we peered upon the horizon we saw a bevy of lakes, streams, and mountains that took our breath away and inspired myriad photographs.  We enjoyed our time at the top and drank up the sights, sounds, and serenity.  As I sat there resting, I remarked at the juxtaposition of damage and rebirth.  While we were surrounded by charred trees and sat atop unyielding fortresses of rock, we noticed the power of water.  The granite had been smoothed and eroded by the small pond as if a silk scarf had etched and molded a piece of steel. We also noticed the clarity and beauty of the water as if it had been meant for this place.  The difficulty and destruction of fire and rigidity of stone had yielded itself to the power of water.  I realized that this landscape and experience echoed life in general.  We often fight hardship, setback, and obstacles to realize that we have been shaped and molded by those same forces.  Just as the water softened the edges of the rock and gave life to the dead, our perseverance and a kind word can shape our lives into beautiful, powerful narratives of triumph.  It is not the fire that consumes us, but the aftermath of tragedy that shapes who we are and makes us our beauty something to behold.  While our journey had been difficult and exhausting, we had emerged victorious.  The water served as a symbol of the quiet, yet powerful forces that make our lives worth living and lend beauty and majesty to the difficult and rocky landscape of our lives.  Just as water carves out granite, our perseverance and grace can defeat the challenges before us and our trip helped us to realize the power, beauty, and resilience of life.  The water had carved out a home for itself and I had found a place that transcended effort, sweat, and obstacles to become an oasis among the clouds.