Diverse History in the Making

By Rolo, Mark Anthony | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, January 8, 2009 | Go to article overview

Diverse History in the Making


Rolo, Mark Anthony, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


When Dr. Ned Blackhawk steps into the classroom, he never uses the term "discovery" when addressing the history of European contact with the indigenous peoples of this continent--and it's not because he feels the pressure to be politically correct.

"I try not to use the term simply because it is so loaded," Blackhawk says. "I prefer 'encounter', which suggests multiple worlds rather than singular ones. We live in an amazingly diverse world. Our society has always been diverse."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The idea of diversity resonates beyond Blackhawk's research and teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His life has and continues to be informed by diverse views, people and places. In addition to growing up in a multiracial Detroit community, his family made sure to connect Blackhawk to his Western Shoshone tribal roots with summer visits with his grandmother, Eva Charley, in Reno, Nev.

During his high school years, he dreamed of traveling, but plans for college needed to come first. Blackhawk's mother graduated from Antioch College in Ohio, and his father was one of the first Native Americans to enter graduate school at the University of Nevada, Reno. However, wanting to make his own way, Blackhawk dropped in on a college campus in Canada.

"I ended up in Montreal at McGill University," he says. "It was one of the craziest and best decisions of my youth. I literally arrived on campus without a place to stay since I had mistakenly assumed that all freshmen received dorm assignments as they did in the United States."

Though he initially set his studies on international relations, Blackhawk found himself drawn closer to history. "Over time I came to see history as a politicized subject, and I became particularly aware of the absence of indigenous people and their history in Canada and the United States," he says.

This issue of indigenous history became a living reality for Blackhawk when two Quebec Mohawk communities resisted the development of a golf course on their ancient burial grounds. …

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