On Monday, September 19 and Tuesday, September 20, 2016, Ernie LaPointe, a Great-grandson to Hunkpapa Lakota chief Sitting Bull, visited Ball State University to give a public talk and to speak with students. On Tuesday afternoon he visited my HIST/NREM 204: U.S. Environmental History course where he spoke on the topic, “Live in Tune with Mother Earth.”
Mr. LaPointe, author of the book, Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy (2009) and the producer of the documentary film, Sitting Bull’s Voice (2013), shared his Lakota cultural perspective on both the history of human relationships with the natural world and the precarious future facing the human race if it does not heed the wisdom of the ancient knowledge carefully curated by the First Nation peoples and make changes in order to “live in tune with Mother Earth.”
LaPointe is the president and founder of the Sitting Bull Family Foundation, and he and his wife Sonja travel across the U.S. and abroad sharing the history of Sitting Bull and the cultural heritage of the Lakota people.
On May 2, 2016, historian Elizabeth Tandy Shermer made a “Virtual Visit” to my HIST 318/518: History of the American West course to discuss her book that I had assigned that semester, Sunbelt Capitalism: Phoenix and the Transformation of American Politics (2013). The students certainly found the political development that Shermer describes in her book to be particularly relevant to their understanding of the more recent history of the American West, but also to their understanding of national current events that are front and center during this presidential election year.
Some students asked professor Shermer questions about why she chose to focus on Phoenix, Arizona and how long it took her to conduct the research and then write the book. Other students asked her if she believed that the rise of Western conservatism halted the progress of the civil rights movement, and to share her thoughts as to whether the rapid growth of Phoenix and other sunbelt cities will be sustainable. This was an exciting opportunity for these Indiana students-most of whom have never been to the west-to meet the author and to discuss her book.
Fun fact: Ellie was my first-ever research assistant when I was a post-doc at the University of Virginia and now she’s an award-winning professor at Loyola University in Chicago! They grow up so fast… 😉
Last February, western historian Will Bagley joined my HIST 318/518: History of the American West class to discuss his recent book that I had assigned, South Pass: Gateway to a Continent (2014). Bagley regaled them with his fascinating stories from the “history salt mines” in a way that only he can.
The students asked him questions ranging from how he began research for the book and how long it took him to write it, to if he personally visited South Pass and the Oregon Trail, and whether he thought that South Pass could also be interpreted as a monument to American capitalism. This terrific opportunity for students to meet the author resulted in the class period flying by!