National grant enables Western to create program to preserve Cherokee resources

CULLOWHEE – A $40,000 grant from the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research will enable Western Carolina University to create a 10-week interdisciplinary summer research program focusing on the preservation of Cherokee heritage and culture in the face of increasing economic and environmental pressures.

The program, designed to build upon the university’s long-standing relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, will include students and faculty members from the departments of chemistry, anthropology, natural resources management, Cherokee studies, environmental health, and biology. The program will be open to all Western students, although special preference will be given to students from Cherokee.

“The heritage and culture of the Cherokee people are a vital part of what makes Western North Carolina such a special place, but they are being threatened by the myriad of problems associated with growth and development in the mountains,” said David Butcher, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Western. “It is important that we take a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the real impact of these problems so that we can take steps to preserve precious Cherokee culture and historic lands.”

During the research program to begin in May, undergraduate students will participate in an archaeological dig at a site on the Western campus, excavating materials from a Cherokee village. They will then conduct chemical analysis of the samples to learn more about traditional methods of production and use of Native American pottery and stone tools, and utilize microbiological techniques, including DNA sequencing, to compare bacteria present in the artifacts and soil samples. Soil will be analyzed to recover floral and faunal evidence that can help reconstruct past environmental conditions and cultural uses of natural resources at different times in the past.

Students also will investigate intercultural aspects of conflict and environmental history during the Colonial era, learn traditional pottery-making and other Cherokee arts and crafts, conduct air quality studies on the Qualla Boundary to measure levels of ozone and mercury, and analyze the impacts of development upon the forests and streams in and around Cherokee.

“Western Carolina is exploring many ways to deepen and enrich our connections with Cherokee people and to better serve the community. The student projects supported by this NCUR grant will contribute to many areas of Cherokee cultural revitalization and environmental preservation in Western North Carolina,” said Jane M. Eastman, assistant professor in the department of anthropology and sociology and director of the Cherokee Studies Program at Western. “It will be a great learning experience for our students, and also will provide opportunities for them to work closely with professors from many disciplines and with members of the Cherokee community.”

Student participants in the program will report on their findings at the annual National Conferences on Undergraduate Research meeting in April 2006. Western will be eligible for another grant of $22,500 next year upon successful completion of the first year of the program.

Out of 30 proposals submitted nationally, Western’s program is one of only two proposals selected for NCUR funding through a program supported by the Alice and Leslie E. Lancy Foundation.

NCUR is a not-for-profit organization committed to the promotion of undergraduate research and creative activity in all academic disciplines and at all institutions of higher learning. The NCUR/Lancy program encourages colleges and universities to devote more attention and resources to undergraduates who show promise of exceptional achievement. The program focus is on helping build communities of student and faculty scholars spanning the academic disciplines but working on a unifying theme.

The Lancy initiative is named in honor of Leslie Lancy, a successful electrochemist and businessman whose estate provides the funds and whose memory inspires the effort to launch this program. After putting himself through school, he founded Lancy Laboratories, which earned an international reputation for technical innovation. Throughout his life, Lancy hired a legion of bright, young students with limited financial resources who, like himself years earlier, were working their way through school.

For information on the summer program at Western, contact the College of Arts and Sciences at (828) 227-7646.