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History Education at USM Emphasizes Contributions of Indigenous People to Story of America

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 07:52am | By: David Tisdale

A team of University of Southern Mississippi (USM) faculty members are working together during the 2019-2020 academic year, across academic disciplines, to help students understand the significance of native people in their study of U.S. history and culture.

Dr. Joshua Haynes, assistant professor of history at USM, led students in his Native American history class - American Indian History to 1840 - on a field trip in November to the Chickasaw Preserve, also known as Chissa’Talla Preserve, located near Tupelo, Mississippi, that is owned and operated by the Chickasaw Nation, and accessible only with permission from the U.S. Department of Homeland Affairs.

The Chickasaw Nation purchased the Chissa’Talla Preserve site to immerse Chickasaw young people in their heritage and their historic homelands. The Preserve is a space for "educating and training young Chickasaw leaders to identify and record ancient artifacts, participate in archaeological survey and excavations." USM students were afforded the same opportunity for immersion in Chickasaw culture at a protected site in Chickasaw historic homelands.  

Cultural interpreters at the Preserve informed students about ongoing archaeological field work on Chickasaw town sites within the Preserve's boundary and the nearby site of the 1736 Battle of Ackia. Noted ethnohistorian Dr. Robbie Ethridge joined the group to interpret the statue of Chickasaw leader Piamingo, installed in downtown Tupelo in 2005.

The trip came about in a collaboration with Dr. Tammy Greer (United Houma Nation), director of the USM Center for American Indian Research and Studies (CAIRS) and an associate professor of psychology. 

“Early America was Indian country. Everybody understands that at some level,” said Dr. Haynes. “Still, most often when we talk about early American history, Native Americans play only small parts. The master narrative of American history focuses on the triumph of a new nation devoted to liberty and equality. Yet, for 300 years after 1492, most of North America remained Native America.

“In this course, I wanted to help students internalize that basic historical concept: Early America was Native America, so indigenous people are a crucial part of the American story. I also wanted students to understand there are 573 federally-recognized indigenous nations within the United States today, and to see with their own eyes the continued presence of sovereign Native American nations, indigenous peoples, and their relationships with American society.”

During the semester, students also participated and attended a translate/transcribeathon event and a Native American Heritage Month observance at Camp Shelby.

“What we learned at the Chickasaw Preserve reinforced what we learned in class on Native American culture and history,” said Miranda Jarreau, a history major from Laurel, Mississippi who serves as president of the USM chapter of Phi Alpha Theta. “It’s easier to understand and better appreciate history when you can see it in front of you, giving you the ability to visualize its significance. I hope more people will visit the Chickasaw Preserve to better appreciate Native history.”

“It was an amazing experience to be able to stand in a spot and know for sure the people we are studying lived out their lives there,” said Jacob Lott, a history major from Collins, Mississippi. “We were able to see the landscape in which they chose to build their village, and that was so sacred to them. It enhanced my imagination when picturing how these people lived, because I was able to put a specific place to the events that involved the Chickasaw.  Even though it was a long ride to get there, it was well worth it. 

Along with Dr. Greer and Dr. Jeanne Gillespie, professor of world languages, Dr. Haynes will teach another course on American Indian Studies during spring 2020 (IDS 350), part of a year-long Interdisciplinary Inquiry project that USM American Indian Studies faculty are engaged in, titled "Footsteps of the Ancestors." The project will offer undergraduate students an opportunity to be involved in interdisciplinary research and study, and will include a follow-up visit to the Chickasaw site. 

For information about the USM History program, housed in the USM College of Arts and Sciences’ School of Humanities, visit

For information about the School of Interdisciplinary Studies and Professional Development, also located in the College of Arts and Sciences, visit