Dr. Jennifer Penland, assistant professor of education and indigenous scholar at Shepherd University, has been awarded a $1,500 grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council to develop a multimedia project about the American Appalachian Indians of West Virginia (AAIWV) with three others.
The project's purpose is threefold: to provide an awareness of the AAIWV and their contributions through storytelling compilations that will be distributed to school libraries; to establish a working relationship between the AAIWV and Shepherd University humanities scholars and education majors for future field placement; and to create accurate historical representations of the AAIWV using narrative reporting.
Penland said her idea for the project was prompted by a conversation with a person last year who told her he did not think there were any Indians in West Virginia, and if there were, they are not contributing citizens. She said his comments made her more determined to prove otherwise.
"There are over 5,000 American Indians in this state, and they are considered invisible," she said.
In addition, she said she wants her students to have a cultural experience.
Her grant work will include conducting interviews with tribal leaders and then compiling them into a documentary film, temporarily titled "West Virginia's Invisible People." She hopes state educators will include it in their social studies curriculums.
"Dr. Penland has a sincere interest in the Native American community and has worked with many prior to coming to Shepherd a year ago," said Dr. Virginia Hicks, dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Shepherd. "There is so much we can all learn from them."
There are more than 85 tribal affiliations in West Virginia with Cherokee and Shawnee being the largest.
The contemporary Indian is a very different Indian, who has to assimilate somewhat to fit in or have duality," Penland said. "It's walking in two different worlds. Having a job in greater society and keeping your own cultural identity, as well."
Penland said she has a passion for multicultural education in higher education and continues work that involves her dissertation thesis of resiliency and social equity in post-secondary education.
"Furthering your education is vital. It's the only way," she said.
She hopes this project will help dispel some stereotypes and misconceptions andraise awareness about the American Appalachian Indians of West Virginia.
"Dr. Penland is passionate about her work and is a progressive professional," Hicks said. "It is amazing what she has accomplished during her first year at Shepherd."
Penland received her doctoral degree in educational leadership and multicultural studies from Lamar University in Texas.