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Tracing Trails: Service Learning Class Researches History of Indigenous People

Nicole Patterson

trails feature

Mount St. Mary’s University will continue on a path of discovery this spring as Director of Outdoor Adventures Chris Duffy and Associate Professor of History Michelle Patterson, Ph.D., work to maintain and uncover the history of the land and hiking trails on Mary’s Mountain. This semester, Patterson is teaching a service learning course where students are studying the history of the trails and researching the indigenous people who lived here. At the end of the semester, students will make suggestions to President Trainor to rename one of the trails—currently known as Indian Lookout—to give credence and credit to the native owners and their stories.

students-on-trails1-in-text.pngIn the winter of 2019, Duffy and Jay Phillips, director of cross country and track & field, began exploring the university’s mountain property. “We found several old paths on the mountain that may have been trails, roads or game paths a long time ago,” Duffy explained. The two used GPS and other digital mapping tools to document some existing paths along the mountain. “Jay and I both dreamed of how great it would be if we could put together a trail network for the students, faculty and staff of the university. We decided it would have to be a long-term project.”

Duffy had documented many possible paths and determined they were on the Mount’s property. He put together a plan for how to link the trails together and work to improve them. “When we were quarantined, I was looking for meaningful work and decided I would spend my days working on these trails,” he said. “My thought was that this could be a silver lining to the horrible tragedy we’re enduring—and the paths could be something for students to enjoy once they return to campus.”

jay-phillips_trail-blazes1-in-text.jpgIn the summer of 2020, with help from his daughter, Zoe, and Phillips, Duffy established and marked three paths. In July, while preparing handouts for new student orientation, he printed a trail map to provide to students and the name of the previously established trail, Indian Lookout Trail, bothered him.

“In light of the significant increase in social and intellectual awareness concerning our nation’s history that’s happening at this time, it struck me: Is this place name, this trail name, Indian Lookout, appropriate? Respectful?” He began researching the name and consulting with faculty and alumni. Duffy reached out to Patterson; he believed her service learning class would be a great way to further research on this issue while providing students with meaningful work.

Patterson joined the Mount in 2006, specializing in 20th century U.S. women’s history and Native Americans, teaching courses in Native American history, women’s history and the American history courses in the Mount’s core curriculum. She’s published books and articles on the study of Native American music by women in the first half of the 20th century such as Natalie Curtis Burlin: A Life in Native and African American Music and co-authored Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies. Patterson has also been published in The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, American Indian Quarterly, The Journal of the West, and American Indian Culture and Research Journal.

Her service learning class is full—and fully engaged.

more-signs1.jpg“Right now we are learning about the Native people who were on this land prior to colonization,” said Kaylee Rodriquez-Torres, C’22. “We have had amazing guest speakers come in and tell us more information which has been very helpful to progress toward our goal of figuring out who was here and learning about their culture, traditions and ways of living.”

Patterson is hopeful that by the end of the semester students will have fulfilled the requirements of a global encounters class and a whole lot more. “They’re going to try and see the world from someone else’s point of view. They’re going to look at the history of where we live with a different perspective,” she said. She’s challenging students to read texts like All Indians Do Not Live in Teepees (or Casinos) by Catherine C. Robbins and discuss reparations and rightful owners of remains and artifacts.

“Here’s a way students can use their minds for service. Maybe they can learn that there are opportunities to find meaning in your work and help others. I try to give students real-world expectations and real-world assignments,” Patterson explained.

Jessica J. Boyer, C’16, director of the library, created a Native American Research Guide with historical databases and primary sources including information on regional tribes and the Mount’s resources specifically on those tribes and those regions. Boyer originally helped Duffy locate the few materials in the archives and references to the trail name in The Story of the Mount.

“It’s important for the Mount to honor the Native Americans who were here because we need to learn the importance of honoring history from its original roots,” Rodriguez-Torres said. “We cannot erase this history because that means erasing tradition, culture, oppression and genocide—which are real factors the Native Americans encountered by the colonization.” She is hopeful her class will find a name that better represents and respects those who lived on this land.

Meanwhile, Duffy continues to maintain the trails and organize hikes. On March 13, Outdoor Adventures and the Office of Social Justice hosted a trail work day where students, faculty, administrators and seminarians were invited to help make trail improvements, including improving resistance to erosion. Volunteers enjoyed a physical workout complete with a free lunch and great views.

“What do we know of the history and what should we do with that knowledge?” Patterson asks. Stay tuned for an update on this story at the end of the semester.

Nicole Patterson