November’s Professor of the Month


Hello students. I am Dr. Pepion. I was born and raised on a ranch/farm on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana.  I attended elementary school a one-room schoolhouse.  In order to attend high school, I had to board out with friends and relatives.  After obtaining some rodeo injuries, my parents encouraged me to attend college. NMSU hired me in 2000 as the Director of the American Indian Program.  From 2001 to 2007, I taught one course a semester in the Native American Studies Minor in the Anthropology Department.  In 2007, I moved into a full-time College Associate Professor position with Anthropology.  I obtained College Professor status in 2012 after initiating a Masters Minor in Native American Studies (NAS). While working with the Blackfeet Indian Nation, I obtained a fellowship for a master degree in Adult, Community, and Higher Education.   After a stint, as President of Blackfeet Community College, I obtained my Doctor Degree in Education from Montana State University.

I enjoy travelling home every summer to my homelands on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.  I still have a bit of land under the magnificent Rocky Mountains.  It is a beautiful place.  I participate in our tradition ceremonies and social gatherings.  I like to invite people to our North American Indian Days celebrations the second week of July.  For over fifty years, we have hosted this gathering of people from U.S., Canada, and around the world for parade, rodeo and a gigantic powwow.

Outside of teaching I enjoy the outdoors, I like doing home improvement work around my home such as building and remodeling outdoor decks and stone patios.  As a former horse breeder and trainer, I like to go to rodeos and horse races.  I enjoy camping and sightseeing especially at historic and prehistoric places with rock art.

I have been working several years with a group on preserving and protecting the Hueco Tanks cultural area north of El Paso.  I do some storytelling and Native American cultural presentations especially with Alex Mares at various places including cultural museums, parks, and events.  I was one of the principle people working with a service entity called Indigenous Nations for Community Action (INCA).  Besides assisting Indigenous people with things like food, shelter, and clothing, we sponsored four Native American Pow-wows in the region.  The proceeds of the powwows included developing a scholarship at NMSU for Native students obtaining the minor in NAS at NMSU.

I really cannot say I have a favorite book.  I just finished reading three books that come to mind: one is a biography of former President Harry Truman, another is The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter, and the other is The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape our Identities and Our Futures by Christine Kenneally.  I met Christine a couple of summers ago in Montana.  She was doing some research on social effects of Native American children forcibly removed from parents and isolated in residential schools far from their homelands for most of their youthful lives.  She is originally from Australia and relates to Indigenous peoples experiences. 

I really do not have one favorite quote.  However, I continue to use the last words of Steve McQueen acting in a movie entitled Papillion.  After a lifetime of attempted escapes from a South American prison, he jumps into the ocean off a treacherous cliff on a coconut and tree raft.  His last words are “I’m still here you bastards” as he floats away on the ocean waves.  I use this in some of my visiting lectures on Native Americans by reminding people “We are still here you bastards”!

I attribute my success in academics to my prolific reading.  Although I spent most of my youth working on the farm and ranch, I always read books from schools and libraries.  Even though I did not do well in school, my freshman English teacher was amazed when I wanted to do a book report on War and Peace by Tolstoy (I was reading it on my own at the time). I teach a graduate course called “Indigenous Ways of Knowing”.  In this class, I advise students to open their minds to other possibilities and move from critical thinking to critical analysis.  Almost all great thinkers and genius people like Einstein say there is much about the world (and cosmos) that we do not know.  There are other ways of creating truth in other cultures.  If we truly want to be global people, we need to learn other languages, cultures and knowledges.

I love the Honors College.  It is a wonderful idea for learning.  I have always used the seminar or dialogical approach to learning.  The building is a great place.  However, I believe it needs remodeling on the inside (or improve the historic interior structure).  It would be great to add an addition to the building on the east side for more classrooms, office space and a large multipurpose room for visiting lectures and events/activities. I would recommend the Honors program to other students as an honest commitment to learning. Learning is wondrous thing, when people engage in reading, analyzing and dialoging.  The smaller classes and group discussions allow us to interact with others and gain new and different perspectives on life.  Interpreting and making meaning of the world around us makes existence a great adventure.  I believe most people desire an understanding of our being within and around us. Life is short; let us experience the goodness and wonders of the world.  If we wait, later may not arrive. In my Tribe, the Blackfeet (or Piikani as we call ourselves), life is about striving to be a better person and seeking what we call Siksikaitsitapii (Piikani way of life). The Dine calls it hozo.  These singular words have multi-meaning including harmony, peace, beauty, wholeness, holiness, and more.  Many indigenous groups have the philosophy of endeavoring or progressing towards a virtuous and wholesome being.  Thus, life is a process; the process involves gaining knowledge and living spirituality.

Lastly, I want to say that I am proud of my traditional Piikani (Blackfeet) credentials.  I am a member of the Rough Riders, Brave Dog, Medicine Pipe, and Beaver Bundle societies.  In 1985, the Blackfeet Indian Nation honored me in a public ceremony through the ritual conveyance of the entitlement to possess and wear an eagle feather war bonnet.  Although these things may have no meaning for overall society, it is an esteemed way of life for the Niitsitapii (Native culture and life).  It means a person is committed and advancing in the direction of virtuousness.  However, I am merely a humble man with numerous flaws on a journey of living and learning.

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