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Haunted campus’ class honors historical figures

Kate Gales | Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Father Edward Sorin. Knute Rockne. Leopold Pokagon.Although anyone on the Notre Dame campus can easily name the significance of the first two figures, Pokagon remains a Native American historical figure shrouded in mystery for most. Professor Kathleen Biddet’s “Haunted Campus” history class, however, is attempting to change that, with a procession and media installation honoring Pokagon and the rest of the American Indians who some historians claim set the stage for Father Sorin and his university.The procession, set for 7 p.m. today, will honor the American Indians who played an integral role in bringing Holy Cross priests to the Northern Indiana area. It will also be the premiere of a media installation set to run in the Great Hall of O’Shaughnessy until the end of classes.Biddet, who cited her “long history of pedagogy” as an interest in starting the class, is a professor of history and director of the Center for Creative Computing. However, she said that her students were self-motivated for the semester-long, self-graded project.”Give Notre Dame students an intellectual inch, and they’ll take a yard,” she said.The students have spent the past semester researching the early history of the University, discovering some sources that suggest Pokagon, chief of the Potawotomi Indian tribe, requested the Bishop of Detroit to send a missionary priest to the area. By perusing a variety of historical documents, University archives, artwork at the Snite Museum and oral history of the tribe, they hope to re-introduce a dialogue between the administration and the Potawotomi tribe members remaining in the Northern Indiana area.”The history before what we think of as Notre Dame … [it’s] still very much a part of school history,” said Beth Bollwerk, an anthropology and computer applications major taking Biddet’s course. She pointed out there was a close interaction between the American Indians, missionaries, and European settlers. In a class discussion, the students mentioned the Native Americans are not mentioned on campus tours, and that the impression tends to be Father Sorin arriving in an empty land, Biddet said.Tonight’s tour will feature readings by Father Kevin Russeau, C.S.C. and Greg Ballew of the Pokagon Band of the Potowatomi Nation. The students have also arranged the planting of a tree with a commemorative plaque, to be blessed by Father William Lies, C.S.C., Chief Brian Buchanan of the Miami Nation and Kevin Daughtery, of the Pokagon Band of the Potowatomi Nation.”We wanted something to leave behind, something semi-permanent, as a mark of what we have done,” said Lance Johnson, a film and finance major who prepared the proposal for the installation. “It’s a good way to remember what we’ve done, and [the tree] has special significance with the American Indians.”The procession will be lit by luminaries, candles and torches and will culminate with a bonfire.According to Biddick, a number of organizations on campus were involved in planning the procession and installation. Bill Kirk, the associate vice president of residence life, was instrumental in the process, Biddick said. Professor Ken Dye, David Linquist of the OIT, Notre Dame Security/Police, risk management, student activities and campus ministry were also involved. Landscape services donated the tree – a red oak – that will be planted outside the Log Cabin Chapel. After working as a Fulbright Scholar in Media Lab Dublin and creating a media installation in a Victorian prison, Biddick was ready to bring a new look at history to her Notre Dame students.”In my larger interest as a historian, what is memory? What is forgiveness? These are critical issues in the humanities,” she said.Biddick and students met Monday with University President Father Edward Malloy to present him with a DVD of the media installation.