When Jennie Stockle (BA ’19) reads her English homework or listens to a history lecture, there is one question on her mind: What was the Native American perspective? As a proud Cherokee Nation citizen, Stockle paints a full picture of indigenous life in her studies. “It’s almost ironic: here is a Cherokee getting a degree in English,” Stockle said. “But, I felt like that was a subject area where Native Americans existed that had not been explored enough.”
With a major in English and minor in film studies, Stockle knew she wanted to incorporate Native American viewpoints, and TU professors enthusiastically tailored her studies to her interests. “Instead of structuring my studies in what they thought I should know they also supplemented that information by answering my curious questions about what natives were doing at this time and how they are in these texts,” she said.
Aided by McFarlin Library’s Special Collections, which includes collections from Cherokee Nation Principal Chief J.B. Milam and Alice Mary Robertson’s library of documents on Creek and Cherokee history, Stockle would spend hours researching her own history and culture.
“There is a lot to Cherokee history, and most people focuses on the time of their removal era, Stockle said. “But I had a deep interest in what our nations were doing before that. How did they operate as a people?”
Scholars long believed literacy was limited to cultures with developed alphabetical or logo-symbolic and hieroglyphic writing systems, but there is also a sophistication in other kinds of symbolic representations of human thought. Within indigenous societies, there is the idea of wampum, which is a non-textual literacy. “It was used to transfer ideas, land, make agreements, marriage ceremony,” she added.
H.G. Barnard Associate Professor of Western American History, Brian Hosmer explained “Like Andean quipu, the complex sets of multicolored knotted twine used by Inca to communicate information, wampum can be read by specialists. Historical accounts provide ample evidence of readers sharing detailed information of ceremonial importance, but also matters we understand as historical and diplomatic in nature.”
There is not a booming body of work on native non-textual literacies, which allowed Stockle to promote her work in a fertile field. She was invited to present her work at The American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies in Denver, Colorado. Chapman Associate Professor of English, Laura Stevens burst with pride as she and Stockle called for more attention to be paid to Indigenous peoples. “For days after this presentation people were coming up to me to compliment Jennie and say how much her words had meant to them,” Stevens said. “My hope is that this presentation will change the direction that this scholarly society takes in the future.”
Roll the film
Using her film studies minor and help from Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Film Studies Justin Rawlins in the TUTV Media Lab, Stockle wrote, filmed and produced the documentary, Finding Wampum, which won first place for documentaries at TU’s student film festival. Intertwining archival footage and interviews with scholars and her family, she portrayed a deeply personal narrative alongside Cherokee history.
In interviews with her family, she discovered they were already aware of wampum. “It was used ceremonially for the sect of the Cherokees called the Keetoowahs,” she said. “They are the ceremonials chiefs of the Cherokee nation, and my great great grandfather was a Keetoowah society member.”
Finding Wampum’s success encouraged Stockle to continue her research. “It made me feel confident that people are interested in these ideas. It’s a more balanced view of history,” she said. “You have to speak to all of the people who existed at that time. What were they doing? What were they writing about?”
TU Indigenous Society
Not only did Stockle integrate Native American studies into the classroom, but also she revived the once defunct TU Indigenous Society. “It’s great for native students to have a place where they feel welcomed and can talk about their culture,” she explained. “We form this unique family. It has added so much value to my life.”
With 77 members, the club is popular among students, and the entire campus is invited to the annual intertribal powwow. TU President Gerry Clancy hosted a dinner with several local chiefs and tribal counselors and dignitaries. “It’s a nice reminder that TU started as a school for Indian women, and it’s on Muscogee Creek land,” she added.
Stockle’s passion for her culture and commitment to her studies has greatly added to the body of research on native peoples. “If you only keep Native Americans in the nineteenth-century west of the Mississippi and you don’t think of them as major social actors on two different continents, you may miss a whole new world of transatlantic studies.”