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New Center Dedicated to Research and Study of American Indians PDF Print E-mail
Monday, September 21, 2009
Contact Tearanny Street, 601.266.6823   
HATTIESBURG, Miss.  The new Center for American Indian Research and Studies (CAIRS) at The University of Southern Mississippi is an affirmation of the school’s commitment to both quality academics and cultural diversity.

A gathering ceremony and dedication of the new center will be held Saturday, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m. behind the Southern Miss International Building. It will include a blessing of the Medicine Wheel Garden by Indian tribal dignitaries and announcement of the center’s formation by Southern Miss Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Joe Paul and Dr. Denise von Herrmann, dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

The event will also feature traditional American Indian customs, such as stickball demonstrations, social dancing and native foods such as Bison meatballs, corn, beans, squash, mint tea, wild rice and mushrooms at no cost. Members of the campus and local communities are invited.

Southern Style representatives will also take more than 50 students from Choctaw High School on a campus tour as part of the day’s activities. “Southern Miss has much to offer to American Indians in our region, and much to learn from them as well,” said Dr. Tammy Greer, director of CAIRS and associate professor of psychology.

Greer belongs to the United Houma Nation tribe of southeastern Louisiana. Last summer, Dr. Ken York, director of tribal planning and development for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Sonja Monk, president of the USM Golden Eagles Intertribal Society, approached Greer about developing a minor in American Indian Studies.

Establishing the center, which will be housed in the College of Arts and Letters, is the first step toward achieving that goal. “The study and celebration of the Southeastern American Indian tribes will figure prominently in this center,” Greer said. “This is a way for us to come together and learn about one another.”

The center will facilitate partnerships between Southern Miss and tribal leaders to better serve the needs of American Indians. Currently, there are 28 state and federally funded tribes in the Southeast. With approximately 9,000 members, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is the only recognized tribe in the state.

Center projects will involve education, research, service provisions and cultural exchanges to enhance the cultural diversity of USM. CAIRS will demonstrate the university’s commitment to the American Indian community and the preservation of community ties, preserving native languages and celebrating native traditions and customs.

“American Indian students are just now realizing the importance of education – specifically a higher education from an accredited university. They want to obtain academic degrees, but also meet the needs of their communities,” York said.

Monk, a library and information science major from Walnut Grove, Miss. is a member of this tribe. A mother of two, tribal archivist, president of the USM Intertribal Society, and student representative of CAIRS, she encourages members of her tribe to gain an education against all odds.

“I first became interested in Southern Miss after I decided to pursue a degree in library information sciences,” said Monk, who will become the first of her siblings to receive a bachelor’s degree. After graduating from Southern Miss she plans to become a lawyer and eventually go into politics.

“I have many years of experience as an archive assistant for my tribe, so having this degree will help me advance my career.”

As the only center in the state solely dedicated to the research and study of Indian people, CAIRS will be the “hub” for tribes throughout Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and eastern Texas. York and Greer believe Southern Miss is the ideal location for the center because students get lost at larger institutions.

“They (American Indian students) go to Harvard or Stanford, but they have no support in these settings,” said York. “Southern Miss will provide an avenue for students to study something like nursing with the added advantage of having access to their language, culture and history through the center.”

For more information on the Center for American Indian Research and Studies, call Dr. Tammy Greer at 601.266.6336. 
American Indian women in traditional native dress at the Annual Southern Miss Golden Eagles Intertribal Society and Recreational Sports Pow-wow. A center dedicated to the study of American Indians has recently been formed at the university. (Submitted photo)

About The University of Southern MississippiThe University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities.  In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world.  Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.
                                                                                      
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