NACOGDOCHES, Texas — For several years, Stephen F. Austin State University faculty members in the James I. Perkins College of Education, Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, and the Rusche College of Business have collaborated with Oglala Lakota College, a tribal college of Pine Ridge Reservation in Kyle, South Dakota, to develop resource interpretation and hospitality and tourism concentrations within the Lakota Studies degree.
The National Parks Service, SFA and OLC worked to create this new curriculum to provide indigenous students with the necessary resources to tell their own stories and market their heritage to park visitors seeking an authentic experience.
Dr. Judy Abbott, dean of SFA’s College of Education, is the principal investigator for the project and is working with SFA’s School of Human Sciences’ Dr. Chay Runnels, associate professor, and Dr. Gina Fe Causin, assistant professor, as well as Dr. Shelby Laird, assistant professor, and Dr. Pat Stephens Williams, associate professor, in SFA’s College of Forestry and Agriculture, and Dr. Carol Wright, assistant professor, in the Rusche College of Business.
“The tribal college system provides opportunities for young tribal members that many would not have otherwise,” Abbott said. “We were honored to partner with OLC and the National Park Service on this project to help expand the curriculum options for OLC students. This project taught us about relevancy, diversity and inclusion in academia.”
Through the curriculum design and development process, SFA faculty members inventoried OLC courses, themes and emphasis areas. They also proposed strategies to strengthen indigenous interpretive curriculum and practice.
Laird has been working on the project since January 2015 and has dealt mainly with the interpretation aspect of the curriculum.
“Interpretation is generally the sharing of and communication about our cultural and natural resources through written and oral communication and multimedia presentations. One way to think about it is educational storytelling,” Laird said. “Every park ranger you’ve met likely does interpretation on a daily basis.”
After review, project stakeholders decided to expand the proposed curriculum to include tourism and hospitality studies. Runnels and Causin were then brought on board to write the tourism job outlook of South Dakota and to develop hospitality and tourism curriculum for OLC that would allow students to work in national parks, museums and hospitality establishments.
“We were trying to provide a way for students to connect to the bigger industry of travel and tourism and interpretation in a way that would help them rise out of their situation,” Runnels said.
In addition to joining the workforce, “OLC students will bring authenticity to the stories and storytelling about the Lakota people’s culture,” Causin said.
SFA faculty members traveled to South Dakota several times during the past few years to work on this project.
“It was personally a rewarding opportunity to be able to visit places like Wounded Knee and hear the indigenous story told there and to go into the Badlands with Lakota storytellers,” Runnels said. “It really shifted my perspective on tourism in that part of the country.”
The project team proposed three new interpretation courses and a new hospitality and tourism course for the degree plan in November 2016. OLC approved the courses in January 2017 for implementation into the fall 2017 semester.
“Our greatest hope is that this degree program will give direction to the Lakota people in telling and interpreting their own stories in the context of the broader world and not letting others be the ones interpreting their sacred traditions,” Laird said.