Author Topic: Becca Gercken - University of Minnesota Morris  (Read 769 times)

Offline advancedsmite

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Becca Gercken - University of Minnesota Morris
« on: February 15, 2022, 09:59:22 pm »
I came across an article a few months ago about the University of Minnesota Morris ("UMM") and its American Indian Tuition Waiver program. This is an excerpt from UMM’s website about its history and that of their Native American and Indigenous Studies program:
Quote
In 1909, the Morris Indian School was transferred by the federal government to the state of Minnesota under the sole condition that American Indian Students, “shall at all times be admitted to such school free of charge for tuition and on terms of equality with white pupils.” It is official University of Minnesota policy to honor this federal/state agreement by providing all American Indian students, who are officially admitted to Morris, free tuition.

Beginning in 1985 an occasional student completed an area of concentration in American Indian Studies with Historian Wilbert “Bert” Ahern and Anthropologist Dennis Templeman.

The true turning point occurred with two additional tenure-track hires Julie Pelletier in anthropology and Becca Gercken in English. By 2003, Bert Ahern, Julie Pelletier, and Becca Gercken authored the formal proposal for a major in American Indian Studies which was officially approved by 2006–07.

In 2010, Bert Ahern after 40 years of service at Morris retired and Julie Pelletier took a position with another university. That same year, Morris hired Assistant Professor of History and American Indian Studies Kent Blansett and part-time Anishinaabeg language Instructor Gabe Desrosiers. A relatively new and transitional program, it has emerged as one of the most innovative and fastest growing disciplines at Morris.
https://academics.morris.umn.edu/native-american-and-indigenous-studies/why-native-american-and-indigenous-studies

I had heard of Kent Blansett (no longer at UMM). I know there are questions about his claims of being “a Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Shawnee, and Potawatomi descendant from the Blanket, Panther, and Smith families.”
https://history.ku.edu/people/kent-blansett
http://ancestorstealing.blogspot.com/2021/04/https//history.ku.edu/kent-blansett.html

That made me curious about people still involved with the Native American and Indigenous Studies program at UMM. Becca Gercken is an Associate Professor of American Indian Studies and English. It appears that she also served as the Chief Diversity Officer around 2019.
https://academics.morris.umn.edu/becca-gercken
https://morris.umn.edu/about/organizational-structure-and-campus-governance/chancellor/message-regarding-campus-climate

In 2003, she wrote a paper titled “Maybe You Only Look White.” Ethnic Authority and Indian Authenticity in Academia.
Quote
I self-identify as Cherokee and Irish American, and even though I do not look especially Indian with my dark curly hair and light skin, I easily meet my tribe's blood quantum standards. My family has been working for years to get the documentation that will allow us to be enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Because of my appearance and my lack of enrollment status, I expect questions regarding my identity, but even so, I was surprised when a fellow graduate student advised me—in all seriousness—to straighten my hair and work on a tan before any interviews. Thinking she was joking, I asked if I should put a feather in my hair, and she replied with a straight face that a feather might be a bit much, but I should at least wear traditional Native jewelry. As a new faculty member, I quickly learned from colleagues and from my involvement in the Native student organization that more consequential identity conflicts were common on our campus and in the town in which the university was located, especially since many of our students, like me, do not "look Indian."

Yet I was still shocked when a month into my teaching a small, mixed-race group of students approached me in the cafeteria with the following statement: "We just want you to know that you're going to have someone in your Native American literature class that will have a problem with you teaching it since you're white. But we told her maybe you only look white." Maybe I only look white? What a teaching moment this could have been. I know all the appropriate ways I could have responded to this group of students. I could have talked about the limitations of the "authority of experience." I could have rattled off a list of courses I had taken in race and ethnic theory, identity politics, and multicultural literature. I could have invited the students to visit my Native American literature class. I could have detailed the countless hours spent on a dissertation dealing with precisely the identity problems this moment was presenting. But I was mad, and, in that moment, I answered not as a teacher, but as a mixed-blood Indian tired of being questioned about her identity: "That's right, I only look white!"
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236728919_Maybe_you_only_look_white_Ethnic_Authority_and_Indian_Authenticity_in_Academia

In 2013, Becca Gercken is identified as Eastern Band of Cherokee in UMM’s newsletter. It appears in parentheses behind her name. See page 13 at the link below.
https://digitalcommons.morris.umn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1017&context=profile

Becca Gercken claims to “easily” meet the blood quantum of her tribe. The Eastern Band of Cherokee requires at least 1/16th degree of Eastern Cherokee blood calculated from an ancestor listed on the 1924 Baker Roll. The Cherokee are incredibly well-documented. Let's assume that her family is a rare instance of missing or incorrect information on the 1924 Baker Roll. One would still expect to find something (census, birth or death records, etc.) that identify her family as Cherokee - especially with 1/16th degree of blood or more.

I created a tree for her maternal and paternal lines. 
  • Her mother was born in New Jersey and earlier generations were in Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts after immigrating from Europe. Based on my research and opinion, her mother doesn't have Cherokee ancestry.
  • Her father was born in Florida and earlier generations were from North Carolina and South Carolina. I was able to get her paternal grandmother’s (Theresa C Bennett, 1906-1995) family back to Ireland and England. Based on my research and opinion, her paternal grandmother doesn't have Cherokee ancestry.
  • Her paternal grandfather’s (Jack Lloyd Herman Gurkin/Gercken, 1906-1972) family is genealogically messy. The family lived in North Carolina; specially, Beaufort County. He changed the spelling of his last name from Gurkin to Gercken at some point in the 1920’s – I first saw “Gercken” in the 1930 census. It was Gherkin prior to Gurkin. His father (Lloyd Taylor Gurkin, 1881-1951) was married at least 3 times. He married his first wife, Lilly Waters, in 1901. The second wife, Hannah Heyburn Latham, was married in 1907. Based on the marriage dates, Lilly Waters would be the mother of Jack L.H. Gurkin/Gercken. I couldn’t find anything to indicate Cherokee ancestry for either the Gherkin/Gurkin/Gercken or Waters family. They are on every federal census. No one is listed as anything other than white on each census, death certificate, birth record, etc.

Is there anyone with genealogy expertise that would be willing to provide an opinion? Not sure if there is anyone with a background in Cherokee genealogy on NAFPS but that would be really helpful. I will happily delete this post if there is any evidence of Cherokee ancestry beyond family lore.

Becca Gercken is teaching on the grounds of a former residential school where stolen Native American children were deprived of their families, culture, and dignity. Personally, I don’t have a problem with non-natives teaching Native American and Indigenous Studies. I have a problem with someone teaching Native American and Indigenous Studies while falsely claiming to be a “mixed-blood Indian” that gets angry at Native American students questioning their identity (source cited above).

In the interview quoted and linked below, Becca Gercken talks about being indigenous and teaching at UMM:
Quote
Becca Gercken, a professor in English and Native American and Indigenous Studies, has seen other students encounter similar challenges and opportunities for growth. “Morris is unique. And the thing that is so different about doing this work here is it’s not abstract for anybody, right?” Gercken said.  “It’s not just knowledge from a book. We have students here whose ancestors went to that school. And even if they didn’t go to that school, they went to a school like it.”

Gercken has co-taught summer courses where students work with the library’s archival material to create stories about the Morris Industrial School.

“The original school there was designed to destroy any record of Indigenous cultures and peoples and our stories,” Gercken said. “For me, as an Indigenous person, the most meaningful part of my work is that I get the opportunity to teach Native studies,” at this fraught location. “And so to me, it’s the best place in the world for me to be doing this work.”
https://www.boreal.org/2021/12/08/377707/native-american-students-unearth-troubled-history-at-u-of-m-morris

Offline Sparks

  • Posts: 1230
Re: Becca Gercken - University of Minnesota Morris
« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2022, 01:26:48 am »
In 2003, she wrote a paper titled “Maybe You Only Look White.” Ethnic Authority and Indian Authenticity in Academia.
[quote not included here …]
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/236728919_Maybe_you_only_look_white_Ethnic_Authority_and_Indian_Authenticity_in_Academia

I notice that she is named Becca Gercken-Hawkins as an author of that article. (One Hawkins was her father-in-law, I found via an obituary; so no need to look into that). — Part of the quote I also found in this article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_identity_in_the_United_States

Quote
Personal reasons for self-identification […]
The importance that one "look Indian" can be greater than one's biological or legal status. Native American Literature professor Becca Gercken-Hawkins writes about the trouble of recognition for those who do not look Indian; "I self-identify as Cherokee and Irish American, and even though I do not look especially Indian with my dark curly hair and light skin, I easily meet my tribe's blood quantum standards. My family has been working for years to get the documentation that will allow us to be enrolled members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Because of my appearance and my lack of enrollment status, I expect questions regarding my identity, but even so, I was surprised when a fellow graduate student advised me—in all seriousness—to straighten my hair and work on a tan before any interviews. Thinking she was joking, I asked if I should put a feather in my hair, and she replied with a straight face that a feather might be a bit much, but I should at least wear traditional Native jewelry."[37]

The article is also available here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4138858

There is also a quote in this book:

https://www.amazon.com/Fantasies-Identification-Disability-Gender-Cultural-ebook/dp/B00J30BILS/

So everywhere I find her, no one questions her presumed native ancestry. As for her self-identification, there are variations. In addition to Cherokee and Irish, there is Dutch (my bolding):

Quote
Faculty Lead: Becca Gercken
Becca Gercken (Eastern Band Cherokee, Irish, and Pennsylvania Dutch descent) is an associate professor in English and a founding faculty member of the Native American and Indigenous Studies major. Gercken’s research frequently focuses on representations of indigenous people and indigenous expressive cultures. Her most recent project is a monograph about historical and contemporary ledger narratives. With co-lead Kevin Whalen, Gercken has led the summer “field school” course on Indigenous Education, in which students study contextual literature and use that knowledge to craft an understanding of the Morris campus’ boarding school history. Gercken received the Horace T. Morse Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education in 2017.

https://ias.umn.edu/programs/public-scholarship/mespac/morris

Unfortunately, I cannot contribute much to genealogical research in the United States. Hopefully, verity will look into this.

Offline Diana

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Re: Becca Gercken - University of Minnesota Morris
« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2022, 09:19:52 pm »
Sparks, her genealogy has already been done by Advancesmite in the very first posting...."created a tree for her maternal and paternal lines.
Her mother was born in New Jersey and earlier generations were in Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts after immigrating from Europe. Based on my research and opinion, her mother doesn't have Cherokee ancestry.
Her father was born in Florida and earlier generations were from North Carolina and South Carolina. I was able to get her paternal grandmother’s (Theresa C Bennett, 1906-1995) family back to Ireland and England. Based on my research and opinion, her paternal grandmother doesn't have Cherokee ancestry"..... Please go back and read the first posting.  😉

Offline Sparks

  • Posts: 1230
Re: Becca Gercken - University of Minnesota Morris
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2022, 07:59:12 pm »
Sparks, her genealogy has already been done by Advancesmite in the very first posting. […] Please go back and read the first posting.

I did read that part of the first post before I commented. Please notice that advancedsmite asks for further assistance:

Is there anyone with genealogy expertise that would be willing to provide an opinion? Not sure if there is anyone with a background in Cherokee genealogy on NAFPS but that would be really helpful.

I mentioned verity (earlier known as Piff and Epiphany) because she usually quotes the full entries of her genealogy findings, and also links to her sources, so that anyone can go there and verify her results. All that is lacking in the 'family tree' sketch in the first post.

Then there is this statement. As far as I know only Administrators can do that, and they very seldom do.

I will happily delete this post if there is any evidence of Cherokee ancestry beyond family lore.