Gadugi - Working Together to Preserve Cherokee Culture

For the third year running, seniors at the Cherokee Central School (CCS) on the Qualla Boundary have the opportunity to earn up to six college credits for an elective hybrid course offered by Appalachian State University. According to Dr. Allen Bryant, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and the teaching professor for the course, there are many early college opportunities on reservations across the country, but for the Gadugi Program – Gadugi is Cherokee for ‘working together’ – courses are designed specifically around Cherokee culture and history.

Bryant teaches two sessions during the academic year: Cherokee culture and the history of education on the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Four days a week he connects with his Cherokee students through Skype or Google Hangouts. Fridays, admittedly his favorite day, he teaches on the reservation.

“I felt humbled teaching Cherokee history and culture,” Bryant admitted, until one of his students told him, “Please don’t apologize. We don’t know these stories.” “They are learning about their ancestors,” Byant added, “their geography. It is instantly relevant.”

“The students blow me away,” he said. “They want to make a difference, to give back. It is a joy to watch them discover their stories. We were studying indoctrination and I shared a textbook depiction of The Trail of Tears. They want to tell the [curriculum] teachers why they aren’t happy about the way their ancestors are being portrayed.”

Bryant said the program has engendered “amazing partnerships.” He co-teaches with Coach Heath Roberston ’05, a Reich College of Education alumnus who gives up his daily planning period to teach this class. The Eastern Band of Cherokee pays the tuition and travel fees for students to visit campus. Appalachian Admissions has provided materials and one-on-one assistance with completing applications and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance will sponsor a second film series in February 2016.

“Course credits will travel with the students wherever they go,” Bryant said. “I’d love for them to come to Appalachian. We hope to make the transition easier... give them a feel for what college is going to be like.” Robertson said everybody wins: the Cherokee “students recruited to App gain opportunities they may not otherwise have; the Appalachian community is exposed to new perspectives and may learn a part of our country’s history not openly discussed.”

Enrollment numbers are not huge but have grown each year, Bryant said “There’s always the worry in this climate of having it become about numbers and data. Without these courses, an entire culture can vanish. That’s not melodrama, that’s what the teachers are up against. If higher ed isn’t here for this, what are we here for? It’s time for some soul searching.”