Friday, November 21, 2008

(4) Sacred Ground

Happily I had no trouble being accepted as a student at
Ohio State. Upon arrival, however, I realized that I was *not*
attending some backwater agricultural college. The campus
was huge, taking up acres of land. The university had many
different schools, ranging from the Arts and Sciences to Music
to Medicine to just about everything! Just getting around this
place was tough going for a village boy like me.

Of course at any university, basic education comes first--and
that could take up to a year or more. But getting the fundamentals
allows us time to consider or re-consider our major. I decided
against declaring Forestry as my major, because I found a better
option. Ohio State offered a bachelor degree in a relative new
field called "Wildlife and Wildlands Science and Management."

So I went with the wild and wooley! As it turned out the "Wild"
curriculum actually included Forestry studies. But it was much
more broad-based, with a goodly choice of majors and minors:
Botany, Ecology, Fish and Fisheries, Natural Resources
Management and Policy, as well as Forestry. The program
helped prepare one to "conserve and manage" wilderness areas;
and some of the coursework was geared mostly towards my
interest in become a park ranger.

Though my parents were helping financially to put me through
university, I chose to spend my summers in Ohio working and
saving money. Following my freshman year I got a summer
job working at the university's main library. Attached to the
circulation department, I did my job--but I also decided that I
would pursue my interest in the general topic of the American
Indian. Working in the midst of a huge library, I was in the right
place for such an effort.

Digging-in, I never got farther than the State of Ohio. As I was
to find in the many books that I would come to study, there were
multitudes of Indian tribes on the land eventually to become
Ohio. The main tribes were the Chippewa, the Delaware, and
the Erie. Like many to follow, these tribes relinquished their
lands to the oncoming settlers of the White government. Other
tribes present in the State included the Kickaboo, the Seneca,
the Shawnee, and the Miami. They, too, faded away.

Still a naive youth, I was incredulous how Euro-American
colonizers could just sweep over another people's land so
incredibly fast in terms of historical time. More than often this
"sweep" was bloody, sometimes Whites against Indians,
sometimes Whites hiring one Indian tribe to fight another.
Treaties were enforced, and the land was relinquished and
made ready for the onslaught of thousands of White settlers.
This scenario repeated itself, over and over, virtually all the way
to the Pacific Ocean.

It's sad reading in any depth these countless stories of loss,
when it comes to the American Indian--but, History, cannot be
turned back. About all I could do to honor the "Noble Savage"
was to study him and attend to his qualities.

Later in my sophomore year I happened one day to spot an
Ohio Historical Society flyer on one of the library's bulletin boards.
It announced the recent opening of a museum center at the
Serpent Mound, a major Indian archaeological site located in
southwestern Ohio, not far from Cincinnati. The flyer noted that
the Society would be offering summer internships to work at this
center. Applications were welcome!

I immediately applied and was quickly interviewed. Right off I was
told that the internship was exceedingly low-paying. The Society
was looking for people who were genuinely interested in working
at the center. They wanted someone who had at least some small
background in the cultures of the American Indian. I was honest,
telling them of my studies of the early tribes in both Virginia and
Ohio. Even more honest, I had to admit that I was not a learned
scholar in the field--but my enthusiasm burned hot.

Luckily I was one of three interns chosen to work at the Serpent
Mound. So the summer following my sophomore year, I headed
towards the Ohio River and found myself in a place called Peebles
where this great effigy mound was located.

No comments: