Indigenous Cultures and the Anthropology Department

Sarah Burke, Staff Writer

Below is an interview with Eric Buffalohead and Sarah Burke. Eric Buffalohead has been working at Augsburg for twenty-one years and currently is Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Department of American Indian Studies. When he is not teaching, you can find him playing guitar for his band Bluedog. Bluedog won the Group of the Year award for the Native American Music Awards. 

SB: Why did you choose to become a professor? 

EB: I do what I do because I want to help people understand who contemporary indigenous folks are and that we’re not a Hollywood stereotype living in a teepee in 1850. But that’s hard because we’re bombarded with those images everywhere we go in the United States. In Hollywood movies, we’re always bad, and then on Land O Lakes products and all these other products in the grocery store, we’re that. And then you’ve got teams from the capital of our country who have a racist nickname. There’s a need that I see for people to be better educated about indigenous folks so that it can improve the relationships that we have with each other. I just lay it out there; this is indigenous folks. This is who we are. A lot of what you see is not untrue, but it’s not who we are today.

SB: What are some educational barriers you see your students face? 

EB: The big one that comes to mind that many students face is financial difficulty. I look at my students now and most of y’all are working at least 20 hours a week on top of school work, which is a full-time job. There certainly are issues that would surround our inability to understand each other. I think that that’s not unique to Augsburg, but that’s something that we’re dealing with because we’ve had a radical change in our student body over the last ten years. I think we have a really committed faculty, but I also understand from the student perspective that the faculty isn’t very diverse, at least in an overt way that you can just see by looking at us. We may have different belief systems and come from different economic backgrounds. 

SB: How do you hope to help Augsburg students thrive with your skills and areas of specialty? 

EB: I would like everybody to have just a taste of an anthropological perspective. If everybody at this institution could look at each other as different and embrace the fact that as humans, we’re all ethnocentric. Couldn’t we get along so much better if we just looked at each other as having differences as opposed to making that judgment? But as anthropologists we’re taught to keep that in check, we’re taught to look at it as different. It’s just being able to recognize that different people have different foods. They’re not going to eat pork, okay, cool. I don’t think it’s wrong. I wasn’t raised that way, so I’m still going to eat bacon, but I understand their belief system. You have a taboo against eating [pork], which is part of your philosophy, so you don’t eat it. 

SB: What advice can you give to students hoping to persist in pursuing their post-secondary education?

EB: Don’t give up. There’s a lot of hurdles, there’s a lot of challenges. I think a lot of people think it’s really easy to turn around and walk away. It’s a lot harder to overcome those challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to talk to your professors about your issues. We are understanding. Don’t give up.