Culturally aware teacher is honored

Mitch Leclair

Mitch Leclair

For over 30 years, Charles Woodard has guided South Dakota towards a better understanding of American Indians, and on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m., he will receive recognition for his work.

The 2008 Dorothy and Eugene T. Butler, Jr., Human Rights Award presentation will be held at the Old Sanctuary in Brookings. The public is invited and refreshments will be served, so everyone has the opportunity to congratulate Woodard on his years of service – just expect a humble response.

Since he began teaching at SDSU in 1975, Woodard has become a leader in promoting what he refers to as “cross-cultural understanding” in our state. Shower that praise to his face, and you’ll probably spur a chuckle out of the doctor.

Woodard developed the “Consider the Century” campus program at SDSU, has helped teach a tutorial in American Indian studies for faculty and staff for the past few years, was instrumental in creating the Oak Lake Writers’ Society, served as Coordinator of the Brookings Reconciliation Council for 15 years and was named president of the South Dakota World Affairs Council.

A one-column list of his achievements could stretch from Volga to Bruce, yet Woodard said all he wants is “to contribute to a society that does better than it has in the past”, one that is “more inclusive, more open.”

Any credit Woodard receives for his work in human rights – no matter how fitting or justifiable it may be – he refracts to his colleagues, friends and mentors.

Woodard said that he “continue[s] to be as much of a student as teacher. I feel privileged to learn from these important sources” – people like N. Scott Momaday, an American Indian writer.

He has been much influenced by Momaday, the subject of Woodard’s 1989 book Ancestral Voice: Conversations with N. Scott Momaday.

“I’ve learned more from him than anyone I’ve ever known,” he said.

Woodard recommends the words of Joy Harjo, James Welch, Leslie Marmon Silko and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn to students looking to broaden their own cultural understanding.

“At best, literature is a history of the human spirit,” he said.

One does not have to search too far to experience diverse anthropology, either. Woodard said even in South Dakota there are “so many things to learn about human history that are residential here.”

Woodard said many current students have made advances in their own social awareness. He has seen a “wider realization of what the contemporary situation is and what we need to do to improve society.”

Woodard is happy to see an increasing emphasis being put on service-learning projects on the campus.

Whether he would like to admit it or not, Woodard has been a vital part of the growing trend in South Dakota to research, appreciate and eventually understand American Indian cultures.

#1.881897:4169288145.JPG:IMG_0276.JPG:Charles Woodard will receive the 2008 Dorothy and Eugene T. Butler, Jr., Human Rights Award on Feb. 26.:Patrica Solis