Friday, September 7, 2012

Native American Speaker Looks to Refocus Perspectives

Dana Benner, the Native American speaker, is the Kittery Historical and Naval Society’s next feature (courtesy photo)

The Native Americans who once called the Kittery area home will be the topic of the next program at the Kittery Historical and Naval Society. Dana Benner, a well-known expert in Native American studies, will present a fascinating look at the people who were here long before we were, their lifestyle, social structures, and their relationship to the ocean.  In addition to a power point presentation, Benner will offer several static displays of Native American interest. He hopes to shift the typical focus on Native American studies, away from war, disease, and death, to a better personal understanding of the way these Native people lived on a day-to-day basis.
“The battles and conflicts between Native peoples and the Colonials could fill libraries, but people know very little about those that called that area home,” said Benner. “I try to talk about - not the conflicts - but the Native people themselves, how they lived their social lives, how they survived the winters.”
Benner, a Manchester, New Hampshire, resident is Native, himself. He’s part Penobscot, Piqwacket, and Micmac. When he speaks to groups of people, he tries to make his talks more natural than the traditional library lecture.
“I hate going to lectures, I hate lecturers, and I hate lecturing,” he said. “But I’ve been doing this for twenty five years.” Benner teaches a history of New England course at Granite State College, in Concord, New Hampshire, and an adult ed course called “Native Peoples of New England” in Concord, Exeter, and Nashua. Benner received his BA in US History and Native Culture from Granite State College, and is in the last course for his Masters of  Education in the Heritage Studies program at Plymouth State.
“I often start by asking how many people in the audience are Native American. Then I ask ‘how long have your families been in the New England area?’ Some say ‘500 years.’ Well, ten to one they’re part Native, especially if they’re French Canadian: that’s almost a ‘gimme.’ It gets people talking,” he said. “It’s the people in the audience that will govern how this lecture goes. I could speak for hours on something they don’t want to hear, but if someone asks a question, that leads to a discussion of what’s in their interests.”
The essence of the hour-long lecture is new perspective. “My main thing is to educate people about the Native people as a people, not as a date in a history book where a battle took place.”
Benner will speak at the Lions’ Club building on State Road on Tuesday, September 11, at 7 pm. The Kittery Historical and Naval Society meets quarterly, March, June, September, and December. There is no admission fee and the public is always invited and encouraged to attend. For further information, contact the Kittery Historical and Naval Society at 207-439-3080.