In Native Words: How the Native Participant Travel Grant Program is Making a Difference

One GWS Native Travel Grantee: One Conference, One Year Later

Deanna Beacham, April 2012

Although my involvement as an American Indian working with the National Park Service began in 2001, prior to 2010 I had never heard of the George Wright Society.  But in 2010 I authored an explanatory essay describing large landscapes in the Eastern Woodlands from a pre-Contact Indian perspective, which was used in an NPS Comprehensive Management Plan. Within months NPS employees and former employees were advising me to present the idea as a paper at the George Wright Society 2011 conference.  A week-long conference at a major hotel in a city hundreds of miles away is out of the financial reach of most American Indians, and I was no exception. My state employer had no problem with my attending, but would not pay travel expenses. If my paper was accepted, the Native Travel Grant program was my only hope to attend.

Because the grant application stated that preference would be given to GWS participants, I applied for a paper session on my essay and agreed to be a participant in a talking circle as well, and both were accepted. The grant was awarded. Then I was honored by being asked to join a third session, and volunteered for an empty slot in a fourth.  My hopes were high: in a fragile economy, I felt my week at GWS could determine my future ability to make a living helping my people.

In short, the conference was everything I could have wished.  All the sessions went well.

On the first night I met the other recipients of Native Travel Grants, and the camaraderie was strong from the beginning. I was no longer the “one Indian in the room”, because now I had sisters and brothers who totally understood, and we all wanted to support each other.  The opportunities to meet new people, make friends, and connect with future colleagues were continual throughout the week.

The excitement of GWS 2011 led immediately to feedback and results. Work accelerated on the indigenous cultural landscape idea, and for months I continued to meet people who had been influenced by its initial GWS presentation. The team working on the concept doubled in size, and related activities expanded.  A year later the ICL has been presented formally at the conferences of Preservation Maryland, Preservation Virginia, and Jamestown Archaeology, at the 2016 Park Summit held in January 2012, and as an entire panel session at the 2012 Society for Applied Anthropology. An interpretive application is underway at one National Park, and other sites have plans or have expressed interests.  Funding has been allocated for additional research and for planning or implementing the idea in other regional parks. A student at the Center for Environment and Design at the University of Georgia is preparing a masters’ thesis in historic preservation on the utility of the concept in the National Park Service. The concept has been incorporated into multiple land conservation plans.

The other presentations made at GWS 2011 have made a difference too.  The coordinator of the session on “hidden history” was asked to reprise that panel at the 2011 Ranger Rendezvous, which was providentially held in my home state.  That resulted in an even larger audience than the crowded room at GWS 2011, and subsequently additional new colleagues and potential opportunities.

GWS 2011 was a watershed week for me, which genuinely has determined my future, and it was made possible by a GWS Native Travel Grant. I am grateful to everyone who encouraged me to attend, and for the grant I received, and it is now my honor and privilege to work to extend that same opportunity to other indigenous peoples in the US, Canada, and Mexico.


The Power of Native Stories on Film

Angeles Mendoza, July 2012

It was through my Ph.D. research that I became a member of the GWS. In 2009 I attended my first bi-annual conference thanks to the George Melendez Wright Student Travel Scholarship. I was deeply touched by the screenings at the Native Film Night. I was deeply touched after watching “The Amendment (Abinodjic Majinakini/ The Child Is Taken Away)” (Dir. Kevin Papitie). The film presents the story of four generations in a family, from the great-grandmother that spoke only Algonquin, to the grand-children that only learnt English. The film reflected the story of my family, I just had to replace Algonquin with Nahuatl, from which I only learnt a few words from my grandmother. Being with other native participants at the sharing circle made me feel that there is where I was supposed to be. I felt free to talk about my indigenous roots without being discriminated. Our stories of suffering and search for healing were similar. My family was not affected by the residential schools, but by the exclusion, lack of opportunities and discrimination against indigenous peoples in Mexico. In 2011 I was focused on finishing my Ph.D. and was no longer eligible for funding from my University to attend the biannual conference. Thanks to the Native Participant Travel Grant I was able to attend and had the opportunity to meet again People from the native group and get to know more Native Participants from Canada.

The relationship among Indigenous Peoples (IP) and protected areas had been one of the issues I explored in my Ph.D. research. After attending the Native Programs in both conferences, I have focused my research on social responsibility and on the impacts of development on Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. This year I started to volunteer as Co-Chair if the Indigenous Peoples Section of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA). The purposes of the section include coordinating the sessions on Indigenous Peoples during IAIA annual conferences and discussing and improving best practices for impact assessment and Indigenous Peoples.