Class Impacts Native Americans Wisdom

Article excerpt

Byline: Sheila Hotchkin Daily Herald Correspondent

When students walk into Jim Frank's Native American Studies class, they have a clear image of who they think will be teaching.

What they find usually surprises them.

"I always joke in classes that I'm full-blooded Western European," said Frank, whose interest in Native Americans began when he watched Western movies as a boy.

Students are sometimes surprised to discover that this Western European is responsible for bringing Native American Studies classes to the College of DuPage.

With the help of colleague Peter DuFresne, Frank is now interested in establishing a two-year Native American Studies program at COD, where he works as a counselor

Frank, a Naperville resident, began teaching students about Native Americans when he offered a class that took his students to a Navajo reservation in New Mexico.

Since then, he also has taken classes to the Ojibwa reservation in Wisconsin and the Rosebud Reservation of the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota.

"These are very powerful personal learning experiences for people," said Frank, describing COD's field studies program as the best at any two-year college in the country.

About a year ago, Frank met Glen Ellyn resident DuFresne at a meeting of the Native American Club at COD, which Frank oversaw.

DuFresne, who is part Choctaw, had left his job in clinical psychology for teaching.

DuFresne belongs to Dark Night Relatives and the Will County chapter of the American Indian Movement of Illinois.

"I know spiritually and in my heart, I identify with being Native American," he said.

While Frank's classes often take the students to a reservation, DuFresne uses his contacts in the Native American community to bring speakers to COD, often tapping his friends and acquaintances.

"Most people really don't have the experience of talking to a Native person," DuFresne said. "They want to romanticize them and keep them in the past."

Both men said the Native American Studies classes are popular and always fill quickly. Although the classes are purely elective, the interest among students is great.

"No one is holding a gun to anyone's head," DuFresne said. "They're taking them because they want to take them."

In the upcoming session, DuFresne is offering three courses.

One will study how Native Americans have been portrayed in film. Students also will study the myths that European Americans formed about the Native Americans, and another course will examine the people and culture. …