By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant

UTC students will have the opportunity to live and work with the Eastern Band Cherokee in the Cherokee community May 5 – 23, 2014.

“In May 2013 we made an agreement, a tribal council resolution, with the Eastern Cherokee Band, recognizing a partnership between the Military Science Department at UTC and the Eastern Band for the purposes of scholarship, cultural exchange, and cultural consciousness,” says Major Robert Ricks.

UTC faculty meet with representatives of the EBCI

UTC faculty meet with representatives of the EBCI

Originally, part of the agreement established an internship exchange for Military Science students, however, organizers decided to open up the internships to all UTC Departments. Interested students can now arrange internships for purposes of cultural awareness and exchange with their major department. Agencies in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) will form agreements with their counterpart programs here at UTC. Ricks anticipates upwards of 15-25 interns will participate in the program, though there is the potential to accommodate more if additional students show interest.

Multiple departments at UTC have expressed interest in the program, with projects as diverse as assisting in developing reading curriculum for the schools and assessing the walk-ability, mass transit, and potential greenway design for the Qualla boundary, territory held as a land trust for the EBCI.

“We hope that this summer internship is the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the Eastern Band Cherokee,” says Dr. Rebecca Jones, the internship coordinator in the English Department. English interns will likely work with the Chief’s office, with the History Center, or at the Cherokee Museum.

“This is an incredible opportunity for our students. We want our majors to be exposed to a broad range of people,” says Dr. Betsy Alderman, Head of the Communication Department. Communication interns will be working on a documentary focusing on the remaining speakers of the Cherokee language and with the newspaper, One Feather.

“Our goal with them is to help them save their language. There are only about 300 people left who can speak and fluently write the Cherokee language. As a program of journalism and mass communication, we want to help them get their language recorded,” says Alderman.

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Members of JROTC at Cherokee Central Schools participated in UTC’s halftime color guard ceremony at a Mocs football game

The coordinator of the internships for the School of Nursing, Robin Pearlstein, MSN APHN-BC, hopes interns come away from the internship with the experience of healthcare in a community setting and the experience of caring for people who may have different health beliefs.

“Rather than trying to master a finite body of knowledge about the Cherokee culture, students will be asked to practice cultural humility, to develop non-paternalistic partnerships with their patients, and begin a life-long commitment to self-evaluation about all cultural biases,” says Pearlstein.

The Manager of Career Development in the College of Business, Irene Hillman, is delighted that the internship isn’t only about business, but also about community. Hillman estimates that the College of Business will have approximately four interns who will possibly be assisting with an investments project, a consolidations project, general accounting, or grant writing.

“Working with an Indian Nation is very different than working with a firm. It has more variables, but you also have more freedom and a little more opportunity for creativity in this internship. I like the idea of business interns being able to think about business processes from a new angle,” says Hillman.

“EBCI also has some very forward thinking, progressive programs; for instance, they have investment programs where their youth has a fund waiting on them. Managing funds internally is a much more interesting concept. They’re constantly trying to strengthen their financial standing,” says Hillman.

In April, the interns will participate in a Cultural Orientation Week. Students will hear from speakers, primarily from the EBCI, and will visit culturally significant Cherokee sites in and around Chattanooga.

“What distinguishes this internship opportunity is the cultural orientation,” explains Ricks.

Interns will continue to learn about Cherokee culture and history during their internships. For example, they will have the opportunity to tour the Cherokee Museum and other local sites in and around Cherokee, North Carolina.

“We want to make sure that when they get there in May, they will be engaging in events outside of their internship endeavors to make sure they’re orienting to the environment,” says Ricks.

The partnership with the EBCI began when Ricks arrived at UTC last year in November and started to look at some of the battalion norms.

“The battalion motto was something related to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which is great, but we have a lot of things related to military history and cultural history here in Chattanooga,” says Ricks. “The idea was to associate more with local Native American culture.”  That led Ricks to Chief Dragging Canoe, who was a Chickamauga war chief and a leader of the Cherokee people in and around the Chattanooga area in the 1760s to the 1790s. Ricks sought consensus from the  EBCI and veteran associations.

This initial contact developed into the desire for a more extensive partnership.

“It became clear that this wasn’t just about getting permission to change the motto but about developing connections. The important thing is that we’re engaging the two communities,” says Ricks. “The idea is to increase the awareness of Cherokee culture in this area and also assist the EBCI in maintaining and preserving their cultural identity. They have a lot of challenges in keeping their language and cultural identity going.”

In addition, UTC’s ROTC program has also made a connection with the JROTC at Cherokee Central Schools. Several of the students in the JROTC program travelled to Chattanooga to take part in UTC’s halftime color guard ceremony at a Mocs football game.

“Really, it’s sort of a mentoring of these high school students, facilitating their development in high school, showing them the college environment and the life of an ROTC student. Some cadets are forming relationships through social media. They traveled here to be a part of our color guard ceremony and they would like to come see our next commissioning ceremony in May,” says Ricks.

The UTC Military Science Department has also recently finished developing a challenge coin, approved by the Tribal Committee and UTC, which will be an honor awarded for academic achievement and to distinguished speakers.

“I think it’s very exciting that UTC is taking an interest in the EBCI and their unique story. I’m grateful to Major Ricks for getting this off the ground,” says Alderman.

“The idea is that we keep sustaining this partnership in the coming years. Hopefully, over the next few years, we can develop this partnership into something more concrete on the campus to address the Native American culture and potentially attract more diversity. We want people to see Chattanooga as a place for cultural consciousness,” says Ricks.

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