Although some questions exist as to the full story of Mary Jemison's captivity and her subsequent years living among the Senecas, there is no denying the influence she had on her adoptive family and friends and their ancestors.
An Eastern Illinois University faculty member is prepared to discuss this influence as the opening event for the campus' celebration of Native American Heritage Month 2006.
Carol Stevens of EIU's English department will present "Utopia and the Citizen/Captive" at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, in the University Ballroom, MLK Jr. Union. Admission is free and open to the public for this University Board-sponsored event.
According to Stevens, her presentation will "recount the influence of the Mary Jemison captive narrative on the upstate New York area in which I grew up, and to a smaller extent on my own life. The story of the young woman taken in Ohio and brought to upstate New York to live among the Senecas is a popular one in the area.
"Especially intriguing is the fact that when Jemison, whose Seneca name was Degewahnus ("Two Falling Voices"), was offered a return to white society, she refused it and chose to live her life among the Senecas. She has many descendents in the Buffalo, N.Y., area."
Stevens' talk will deal with the Lois Lenski 1941 Newbery Award-winning children's book, "Indian Captive," as well as with Deborah Larsen's adult novel, "The White" (2002), and some of their original sources, including James Seaver's 1824 "The Life of Mary Jemison," though it will raise questions about the authenticity of the voice presented in Seaver's interpretation, and will offer some critique of these presentations of her life.
Mostly it will deal with Jemison as an adopted member of the Seneca nation, where in old age her wisdom was typically revered among the members of a nation renowned for their fairness toward women and their respect for the elderly.
"Her shrewdness in a land deal has been credited with preserving much of the ancestral land of the Senecas -- one of the few nations who, when reservations were established, actually were able to remain in what had traditionally been their territory," Stevens said.
"It will also deal with her combination of community responsibility and self-reliance, and with the extent to which she and her adopted community model concerns central to my research in feminist utopian fiction."
The talk will be illustrated with Stevens' own photographs, taken at what is now Letchworth State Park, of sites important to the story. They will include pictures of the Gardeau Flats of the Genesee River, on which Jemison spent much of her life, and the Seneca Council Grounds, where a memorial statue of her still stands near the Council house.
Other events commemorating EIU's Native American Heritage Month celebration are to include:
Poetry Slam, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7, Charleston/Mattoon Room, MLK Jr. Union. Students, faculty and staff will read poetry from different Native American authors.
Native American Student Association Informational, 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, Greenup Room, MLK Jr. Union. Come learn about an opportunity to start a new student organization.
A showing of "Spirit of the Dawn" (movie), 3 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, Union Bridge Lounge, MLK Jr. Union.
Making Dream Catchers (A Teach Me Tuesday event), 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, Taylor Hall.
Showing/discussion of "Smoke Signals" (movie), 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15, Coleman Hall Auditorium (Room 1255). Moderated by Matt Jennings, EIU history department.
"Cherokee Stories," lecture by Pauline Hilb, 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 27, Arcola/Tuscola Room, MLK Jr. Union. Hilb, who is Cherokee, will discuss her personal life history, some of the obstacles she has faced, and the efforts Native Americans are making to keep their traditions alive.
Showing/discussion of "Black Indians: An American Story" (documentary), 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29, Lumpkin Hall, Room 2030. Moderated by Matt Jennings.
In addition, a special Native American display will be exhibited in Booth Library during the month of November. Artwork, baskets, arrowheads, dream catchers, jewelry, books and more will be featured.
Also, the Tarble Arts Center is hosting "Beadwork Across Cultures," an exhibition surveying beadwork traditions from Native American, Mexican, African and Caribbean cultures, through Jan. 7.
Admission to all events is free and open to the public.
All events are subject to change. For up-to-date information on these activities, plus other events open to the general public on the EIU campus, please see http://www.eiu.edu/pubaff/calendar.php.