DECATUR — Millikin University seniors who spent their spring break at the Pawnee Nation reservation in Oklahoma say they gained more than a better understanding of the tribe’s culture.

Eric Du of Bellefontaine, Ohio, said he also gained about 10 pounds from eating such hearty foods as green chili, corn soup and fried bread.

“If you don’t eat when they ask you to, that’s a sign of disrespect,” explained Carissa McCallister of Granite City. “You also can’t do something afterward until all the food is gone.”

Du, McCallister and the other six students who made the trip will be sharing their experiences during Millikin’s annual Celebrations of Scholarship at 10 a.m. Friday, April 26, in room 422 of Shilling Hall.

Leading the group was Mary Garrison, associate professor of social work and adviser to the university’s Human Service Connection student group. This was Garrison’s third time taking the group to Pawnee over spring break.

“This is experiential learning,” she said. “We did get to do some service while we were there, but the trip isn’t just about building something or cleaning something up.”

“Our time with the Pawnee was possibly the most enlightening and educational experience any of us have ever had,” said Jade Anderson of Mount Zion. “We cleaned litter and tree limbs from the tribe’s two cemeteries, and also picked up trash along the road.

“We participated in the tribal community playing games, listened to men sing and play a big drum. Their humble and caring attitude was contagious.”

McCallister said she was especially struck by the sight of grave decorations, even on the graves of people who died as long ago as 1901. “The people who put the flowers there may never have known them but still honored them as part of their family and part of who they are now,” she said.

“They’re very appreciative of their elders and their history, whether it’s good or bad,” said Kelsey Borchelt of Oswego.

The Pawnees lived along the North Platte River in Nebraska until they were relocated to Oklahoma in 1975 by the U.S. government.

Jonathan Williamsen of Beecher said that in some ways the Pawnee are a freer people than the descendents of the European settlers who displaced them.

“They talk about homicide, suicide and whatever struggles they go through,” he said. “Because they speak out about it, they’re not as trapped by it.”

Other students who went to Oklahoma last month were Val Anderson of Skokie, Allison Lanzerotte of Carlinville and Brittany Parker of Troy.

Millikin’s Human Service Connection also sponsors the university’s Box City each November for Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Millikin University’s Celebrations of Scholarship

WHEN: Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27

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