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UND students return Friday from three weeks of study at field school in Brazil

by By Patrick C. Miller

Posted on 6/7/2012

Mikulak and students
Marcia Mikulak, an anthropology professor at UND, stands with three of her students who spent weeks living and working among the indigenous Xukuru people of northeastern Brazil. From left to right is Shayla Longie, Elizabeth Beecroft, Mikulak, and Erin Stohler (seated).
It would be an understatement to say that Marcia Mikulak and the three University of North Dakota students, who've been in Brazil since May 19 attending a field school, have learned a great deal.

"No matter how much students are given to read, the number of exams or essays they write, nothing impacts them more than the actual experience of face-to-face contact with those who live differently than they do," Mikulak, an associate professor of anthropology, wrote in her blog.

On Friday, the students will return to the U.S. after three weeks at the Brazil Field School sponsored by UND in conjunction with Global Citizens Network (CGN). While there, they studied and worked hand-in-hand with the indigenous Xukuru (Shoo-koo-roo) people of northeastern Brazil.

The three students - all seniors - and their majors are: Erin Stohler, Stillwater, Minn., rehabilitation and human services; Elizabeth Beecroft, Minnewaukan, N.D., anthropology; and Shayla Marie Longie, Devils Lake, N.D., anthropology.

The field school is a forum for both students and UND professors to experience social action research in a variety of areas that include indigenous education, medicine, micro-businesses, eco-agricultural production, music and theater, cultural mathematics, oral history and political and social organization. It is open to students and professors across a variety of disciplines at UND.

Mikulak will remain in Brazil until July 5 to conduct human rights research on the Xukuru. She was asked by Amnesty International to be a volunteer "country specialist" who provides council to individuals in need of help with human rights issues. In 2007, she began working with Cacique (Chief) Marcos Xukuru, the leader of the Xukuru tribe in Brazil.

Since arriving in Brazil, Mikulak and her students have written about their experiences, posted photos and provided information on their blog and through Facebook. The blog also serves as a forum for discussion about human rights as they apply to indigenous peoples in Brazil. The students have produced a video about their experiences that's posted on YouTube.

Some of their experiences include loading trucks with food and supplies for 42 schools in Xukuru territory, painting a wall surrounding a school in Po de Acucar and painting another school in a different village.

"The Cacique Marcos Xukuru has provided us with a series of lectures about the history of the Xukuru people beginning with the colonization of Brazil and the practice of assimilation or extinction of indigenous peoples to the 30-year fight for the return of their lands," Mikulak said.

They've also spent time with Zenilda Maria de Arajo, the chief's mother who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 2005 for her human rights activism.

CGN, an non-governmental organization in Minneapolis, works with both universities and U.S. citizens to travel abroad and carry out service work. The Brazil Field School includes service work, social media activism and applied anthropology.

"This has been an exceptional trip for my students," Mikulak said. "I hope the Brazil field school can continue and be an ongoing international experience for students at UND."

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