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Local college to offer Native American studies

— Janie Swartz Peck hopes the current revival of interest in Ute culture and history will lead to something permanent in Steamboat Springs. Swartz Peck will teach an introduction to Native American studies at the Alpine Campus of Colorado Mountain College in June. If there is enough interest, she’d like to offer the course every summer.

Swartz Peck acknowledges that studying Native Americans has its trendy aspects, but she is devoted to teaching an academic course rather than a glamorized portrayal of Native Americans.

“I feel it’s important for people to see Native Americans realistically,” the CMC professor said.



The course won’t be all textbooks and lectures. During a three-day field trip, students will visit historic sites and view pictographs.

“I’m really excited about doing this,” Swartz Peck said. “With the help of Madeleine Vail, we’ll get hands-on experience dying wool in the Navajo style with vegetable dyes. We’ll prepare a meal of Native American food and play Native American games.”



Swartz Peck has pursued a lifelong interest in Native American studies. She has taken courses at the Crow Canyon Institute outside Cortez, and in the fall of 1999 she spent part of her sabbatical traveling the Southwest, South and Midwest collecting texts and visiting various Native American sites.

She just returned from conducting research on the Lakota/Sioux reservation in the Badlands of South Dakota.

“As an Anglo, I was concerned about teaching a course about Native American studies, but the board at Crow Canyon, which includes Ute, Hopi, Navajo and various Pueblo leaders encouraged me to do so,” she said.

Swartz Peck said the board members felt she could convey a fair and accurate message about Native American peoples, and it would be beneficial for her to teach the course.

The course actually has two major components, a three-credit lecture course that meets Monday through Thursday, June 12-28, and a non-credit three-day field trip to Native American sites in northwest Colorado and Utah June 23-25.

Students have the option of taking the lecture course together with the field trip, or just signing up for the field trip. There are a limited number of spaces for students interested in the field trip only.

Swartz Peck became interested in Native American culture as a child growing up in Illinois in the ’50s. Her grandparents returned from trips to the West and its reservations with fascinating stores, as well as jewelry, pottery and rugs.

She began doing serious research in 1984, when she went to Pennsylvania to teach at a branch of Penn State University. A colleague of hers was part Cherokee and taught a course in Native American literature. She enrolled in the course herself, and her interest continued to grow.

“I started going to powwows, workshops on Native American plants and uses, and visiting different native American reservations on the East Coast,” she said.

As an outgrowth of her interests in Native Americans, Swartz Peck is developing a course on cross-cultural communications, which she will teach at CMC this fall.

— To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210, or e-mail tomross@amigo.net


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