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Through research, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh human services leadership associate professor Toni House is helping to save her heritage.

House, a member of the Oneida Nation, knows the importance of language. Language can be a significant part of a person’s identity, cultural history and traditions.

Yet despite their value, native languages around the world continue to disappear. That’s why House, aided by the opportunity of a sabbatical, is working to find ways to revitalize these modes of communication.

Time off from the University has allowed House to develop a mentorship program between the Oneida in Wisconsin and the Mohawks, who have successful created a language nest in Kahnawake, a territory outside of Montreal, Quebec. A language nest is a program that connects children with older adults to help the knowledge pass through generations.

The Mohawk people, once neighbors to the Oneida Nation, have the highest population of first language speakers and second language learners within the Six Nation Confederacy. Those nations have descended from the same Iroquoian language family but have different language applications.

House’s research has included many hours of travel and conversations with second language learners and first language speakers at all developmental ages. She will be applying the Mohawk language nest methodology to a corn-growing cooperative in Oneida. The co-op has 12 families that grow Tuscarora Flint heirloom corn together and have committed to learning the Oneida language and culture by building a language nest.

“To revitalize our heritage, we need bring it back into our homes and daily lives,” she said. “Our group will help develop new language speakers by creating immersion environments for the families to carry out daily activities in our language. I believe we will be successful because the curriculum evolves around our ceremonial practices, which prioritize strong land, agricultural and family relationships.”

The sabbatical process has been a very self-reflective experience for House. As a result of American relocation policies she began life in Los Angeles, not truly understanding that she was Native American until she was 8 years old. Throughout her project, House has learned the importance of communicating and creating positive relationships that value diversity.

“It has been a privilege to immerse myself in the Indigenous culture and learn the language as an Uhkwehuwe (real People) and be hosted by so many people,” she said. “The experience has provided critical healing to me and others as we begin to develop curriculum, programs and language materials that will impact the Oneida community but also the other nations in the Six Nations Confederacy.”

House will use the rest of the semester to finish her sabbatical research and consider how to share her story of learning and preserving her culture. She teaches courses on domestic violence and interpersonal relations in helping professions.

Other UWO sabbaticals

Eleven UW Oshkosh faculty members have spent all or part of the 2019-20 academic year on sabbatical, working on major research or writing projects related to a range of topics.

  • Alexandrov Aliosha, associate marketing professor, will be looking at three research topics that are believed for advancing the measurement process.
  • Benjamin Arts, associate economics professor, will be looking at the popular explanation for the enduring gender gaps in earnings focuses on career interruptions and women’s tendency to experience them more than men.
  • Julia Chybowski, associate music professor, will be researching singer E.T. Greenfield’s later career, coinciding with the Civil War and reconstruction periods. She’ll be highlighting Greenfield’s impact as a teacher, philanthropist and leader who used music to influence how Americans thought about race in cultural terms.
  • Kathleen, Corley, religious studies and anthropology professor, will be completing her book How Women Invented Christianity, and present a series of six workshops on the UWO campuses.
  • John Mayrose, associate music professor, will compose two original compositions: a book of five, 3-4-minute concert etudes for classical guitar and a 10-15-minute improvisatory composition for electric guitar and interactive electronics, which will be premiered in a recital following the completion of the project.
  • Dana Merriman, biology professor, will learn how to genetically modify squirrels at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
  • Anca Miron, associate psychology professor, will be studying ways of mobilizing and maintaining women’s solidarity with other women negatively affected by the gender wage gap.
  • Bruce Niendorf, finance and business law professor, will be looking at the rate of return and value-added that are fundamental decision criteria for any investment.
  • Timothy Paulsen, geology professor, will conduct quantitative and qualitative analyses to determine the nature, origin and significance of change in chemical composition of sand grains collected from sandstones formed 500 million years ago.
  • Jane Purse-Wiedenhoeft, associate theater professor, will finalize a one-person performance piece about the passionate life of Isabella Augusta Persse Gregory.
  • Teresa Weglarz, associate biology professor, will develop course and curriculum for the undergraduate studies program. Coursework will examine the environmental, societal and economic impacts of water pollution.

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