Published On: Mon, Oct 31st, 2011

Henry Owl Fellowship honors American Indian pioneer

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

                Henry Owl was a pioneer for American Indians.  The EBCI tribal member was the first person of color admitted to the University of North Carolina and the first American Indian graduate. 

 

Henry Owl (UNC photo)

              He received his master’s degree in history from the school in 1929.  Owl’s master’s thesis was entitled “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: Before and After the Removal”.  The university has named a fellowship after Owl in honor of his historic achievements.                 

                The Henry Owl Fellowship, offered through the UNC American Indian Center, funds a two-week language immersion program at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and includes a stipend of $1,500, tuition and living expenses. 

                “Henry Owl opened doors for Cherokees to seek graduate degrees and to exercise their right to vote,” said Theda Perdue, UNC American Indian Center.  “By doing so, he made North Carolina a more just state. UNC is pleased to honor him with the Henry Owl Fund, which will support the Henry Owl Graduate Fellowship and instructional programs in Cherokee language, history, and culture.”

                Owl’s daughter Gladys Cardiff followed in her father’s academic footsteps and has earned a doctorate and is a professor at Oakland University.  “My father inspired me in words and in deeds. I am made humble and also filled with inspiration when I think of how hard he worked to get a good education. For him, doing more than what was required was the norm. His aim was to excel in all that he did, whether it was academics, or sports, or singing beautifully in his deep bass voice.”

               “He was a modest and gentle man who believed in behaving properly and decently toward everyone he met. He had two admonishments for me and my sisters and brother that he repeated throughout his lifetime: ‘Get a good education’” and ‘Remember who you are’.  His example gave me the courage to go back to school after my two children were finished with their own college careers. I earned my doctorate and am now a professor at Oakland University with a specialty in Native American literature and in creative writing. I have had two books of poetry published and am finishing a third. I include this information simply to underscore his legacy as a loving father who inspired me to emulate his work ethic and morals. It has been my honor to introduce students to the wonderful stories, poems, and memoirs of Native writers.”

                Brooke Bauer, a Ph.D. student at UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences and member of the Catawba Nation, was a recipient of the Fellowship in May.  “Language study enriches the understanding of American Indian culture, and makes UNC’s American Indian studies concentration one of the most innovative in the nation.”

                Perdue wrote a paper about Owl in which she discusses his life and legacy including his fight for the right of American Indians to vote.  “He (Owl) made his mark on the history of Indian civil rights when he tried to register to vote in Swain County.  At first, the registrar refused to register him on the basis that he was illiterate.  When Owl presented his thesis, the registrar claimed that Cherokees did not have the right to vote in North Carolina because they were wards of the government and not citizens, despite a federal law in 1924 that made all Indians citizens.” 

                “In 1930, Owl’s testimony before the Senate about the discrimination he had suffered prompted Congress to enact a law extending citizenship rights to members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the last Indian tribe in the United States to be guaranteed the right to vote.” 

                For more information on the Henry Owl Fellowship, visit http://gradschool.unc.edu/diversity/americanindian/henryowlfellowship.html, (919) 843,4189 or email aic@unc.edu.

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