UNT's 2009 International Indigenous Student Conference on Culture and the Environment in mid-April kicked off the official launch of the university's new Office of International Indigenous and American Indian Initiatives.
Jonathan Hook, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, has been named director of the newly formed International Indigenous and American Indian Initiative at UNT. Hook formerly was director in the Office of Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 6 in Dallas. He was responsible for managing grants for the Environmental Justice and Tribal programs and ensuring that the communities in Region 6, including tribal communities, received fair and equitable treatment in environmental issues.
This was the third International Indigenous Student Videoconference and this year's event is available via webcast.
The conference was sponsored by UNT and the U.S. Department of State.
The videoconference included students from Russia and Malaysia. It focused on art depicting global climate change and efforts within the Native peoples' communities to deal with the problem. The conference also looked at ways indigenous cultures affect and shape environmental protection in their communities.
Approximately 15 Native American students from Anadarko and Wetumka, Oklahoma, participated in the U.S. portion. They were welcomed by students from the UNT First Nations Council. After dinner, the group was treated to a viewing of "Wonders of the Universe," a presentation at the UNT planetarium, and storytelling led by a Kiowa tribal leader.
Thursday's events included a luncheon for participants and performances of traditional Native dance at the Gateway Center.
"Our goal is to provide opportunities that indigenous communities want and need," Hook said of the videoconference. "The Indigenous Advisory Council, tribal leaders, and native communities will provide us guidance on the programs, projects, and areas of study that UNT can provide to fill the needs of the communities."
"The University of North Texas has the largest Native American enrollment among public universities in Texas," Hook says. "In addition, UNT is halfway between the 37 tribes in Oklahoma and one of the largest American Indian population centers – the Dallas-Fort Worth area where there are approximately 50-75,000 American Indians. These factors, and the fact that our work with indigenous peoples frequently ties directly to our strength in environmental science, provide an opportunity and a responsibility for UNT to develop and implement responsive and culturally sensitive programs to serve regional and international Native students and communities."
The office of International Indigenous and American Indian Initiatives at UNT already is working on 32 different programs that either are under way or are planned to support Native American Communities.
Buddy Price with UNT News Service can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.