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"A Miami moment with...Bobbe Burke"
Q: You became coordinator of Miami tribe relations in 1994. What changes have you seen?
A: The first Miami Tribe students enrolled in 1991-92. I coordinated the first campus project that involved the tribe that fall. We created a display in the Shriver Center and several people came from Oklahoma to do a dance demonstration for us at Millett Hall.
In 1994 a commission to study how to enhance and strengthen the relationship with the tribe was created and one of the outcomes of that committee was to appoint a staff member to “coordinate” some activities and build a stronger relationship. That’s when I was appointed to do this work.
As we look at the 40-year span of the connection between Miami and the tribe, I think it can be broken down into two distinct sections: The first 20 years were focused on athletics and how to do more dignified things with the images we were using or promoting in relation to the mascot; the second 20 years have been much more focused on education, providing opportunities for Miami students to learn more about the tribe, and recruiting Miami Tribe students to enroll at Miami.
Q: How did the change in focus come about?
A: Myrtis Powell, who advocated for changes in diversity throughout her entire tenure as vice president for student affairs, was a pivotal person in this change to the education focus.
The first academic courses connected to the Miami Tribe began in the summer of 1995 when anthropology professor Jim Hamill took students to Oklahoma; the outcome of that workshop was a perfect example of a service-learning model. Academic courses have been including assignments that address current needs of the Miami Tribe ever since.
A very impactful example of this type of work occurred when professor Hugh Morgan took journalism students to Oklahoma in the summer of 1998 and they assisted the Miami Tribe in transitioning their newsletter into a newspaper format. This newspaper is the major way that the tribe continues to this day to communicate with its members that are spread throughout the United States.
Q: You were named an honorary member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma in 2005, one of only a handful of people so honored in the history of the tribe. What does this honor mean to you?
A: I am the third Miami University person to be named an honorary member of the Tribe, following Cory Foster who was the director of alumni affairs for years, and Reed Anderson, who served as an associate dean of the College of Arts and Science and was integrally involved in the creation of the Myaamia Project.
Receiving this honor is a very humbling experience. For me, it is impossible to describe the emotional impact of being welcomed into a community where you have no real legitimate right to belong. It’s like becoming a member of another family. It’s on a very personal level.
Q: Are you connected with many of the Miami tribe Miami alumni?
A: There have been 81 Myaamia students who have enrolled at Miami since 1991. Thirty-nine degrees have been awarded and four more will graduate this May. We currently have 22 students enrolled this semester. I have met every one of those students and gotten to know them better from the late 1990’s to the present.
We are all extremely excited about the fact that 16 of those graduates will be here for the Myaamiaki Conference this weekend.
Rachel Hall Eikenberry who was one of the first students who enrolled in 1991 will be here and she is excited to bring her seventh-grade daughter along to take a closer look at Miami for future consideration as her own college of choice. It is very common for Myaamia siblings, cousins and other members of families to attend Miami.