On campus, Straus has furthered her goal of educating others about
Native Americans as a lecturer in the University's Master of Arts
Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS), which she joined in 1995
after two years as a senior researcher at the American Indian
Economic Development Association in Chicago. During a January
meeting of her winter quarter class, Anthropology 320: Topics
on Native America: Indian Civil Rights Act, she reviewed with
13 students a series of early Supreme Court decisions significant
to native peoples, highlighting one that has had repercussions
through modern times. Written by Chief Justice John Marshall in
1831, it established the legal foundations for the present-day
trust relationship between the federal government and Native Americans,
with these words referring to the Cherokee: "Meanwhile they are
in a state of pupilage. Their relation to the United States resembles
that of a ward to his guardian."
explained the concept to the class in a manner both businesslike
and down-to-earth, like her attire of teal business suit and black
walking shoes. The passage, she said, portrayed Native Americans
as "cognitively disabled adults or young children not capable
of handling their own situations, their own land in particular.
A straight-out statement of paternalism is pretty clearly here."
But, she noted, Native Americans have found ways to use this passage
to their advantage. "Today, the trust relationship is important
in safeguarding the special legal and political status of Indian
tribes," she explained. "Tribes have used it to hold the government
liable in its fiduciary responsibilities to Indians. Tribes have
turned the burden of paternalism into a strength."
the classroom, Straus has worked to bring Native-American culture
to campus. Currently, she's assisting curators Robert G. Donnelley,
AM'97, and Richard A. Born, AM'75, with an upcoming Smart Museum
exhibit of works by the Native-American artist Silver Horn. Titled
Transforming Images: The Art of Silver Horn and His Successors,
the April 13-June 11 exhibit will showcase Silver Horn's ledger
book drawings and hide paintings, including a collection from
the Field Museum of Natural History that has never been shown
publicly. The works record the history and culture of Kiowa Plains
Indian life at the turn of the century.
the past two years, Straus has provided students in her anthropology
classes with a more interactive Native-American cultural experience.
Each spring quarter class has organized an on-campus powwow, including
the performance of traditional Native-American dances and songs.
The 1998 event was held on the Midway Plaisance in June to commemorate
the 1961 powwow. Last year, the event grew from a small cultural
demonstration to include more than 20 dancers, representing as
many tribes, and two drum groups. Straus is now working with students
and the Gathering of Nations, an Albuquerque-based powwow-planning
organization, to bring to the Midway what she hopes will be a
powwow nearly as large as that held in 1961. She expects the free
and open-to-the-public event to attract several hundred dancers
and as many as 70 crafts vendors during the last weekend in September.
Straus hopes that classes on Native-American issues, the Silver
Horn exhibit, the Midway powwows, and other such efforts will
help to acknowledge the presence of Native Americans at the University
and to attract more Native-American students. (According to the
registrar, 19 Native Americans are currently enrolled at the U
of C.) Also to that end, she advises the Native American Students
Association, which grew out of her students' past powwow organizing
president Jessica Hansbrough, a fourth-year anthropology concentrator,
says the purpose of the group is to help connect Native-American
students to each other, and to connect all students to the city's
Native-American community. Its 30 members, she says, are a mix
of Native-American students and other graduate and undergraduate
students who are studying Native-American topics or are generally
interested in Native-American culture. In early February, the
group planned to bring White Hawk, a local Native-American drum
group, to the C-Shop's weekly music showcase, the Flow.