- BY KADEE KRIEGER | Contributing writer
- OCT 4, 2020 – 6:15 AM 2 min to read
As a member of the Seneca Iroquois tribe, Mandeville High School teacher Mark Hazlett has often shared his knowledge and passion for the Native American culture with students and colleagues by demonstrating a native dance or dress.
Now, as the author of a newly published scholarly work on the struggles of American Indians since the arrival of the earliest explorers, Hazlett is able to share his passion for his heritage with a wider audience.
“American Indian Sovereignty, The Struggle for Religious, Cultural and Tribal Independence” is a comprehensive study of the destructive behaviors that settlers in North America inflicted on the indigenous people and how the struggle remains centuries later.
“It started with the first immigrants to our shores, from the Pilgrims and Puritans, we were encroached upon,” he said. “This is a book for students to use as a textbook or for anyone who wants a clear vision of American Indian issues,” he said.
Hazlett has worked as a private consultant for American Indian groups and tribes, serving on pow wow committees and assisted in grant-writing. He has been a teacher at Mandeville High for 15 years, teaching physical science, physics and chemistry. He earned a doctoral degree in political science from the University of Tennessee before embarking on a 30-year teaching career, which spans middle through graduate schools.
Hazlett called the book a “passion project” that has been 20 years in the making.
In it, he extends the concept of sovereign property beyond land to include American Indian identity, religion and culture.
He said he defends that identity against who he calls “wannabes” who mimic ceremonies and customs for profit without a real background. “When someone starts a sweat lodge and it’s done improperly, people can die,” he said.
The work also tells the story of repeated assaults on native lands through court cases that have Native Americans facing off against governments regarding everything from gaming issues to pipelines.
Hazlett said he researched thousands of court cases before picking the hundreds that he cited in the book.
The book, published by McFarland Publications, is based not just on scholarly research but on Hazlett’s personal experiences that make the work a “piece of preservation.”
He and wife Michelle, a native of Gulfport, Mississippi, moved to Louisiana 25 years ago from Minnesota, where he worked as a college professor. They immersed their son and twin daughters in the Native American traditions of song, dance, food and stories.
His son is now serving in the U.S. Navy, and his daughters are college students at New York University and the University of Massachusetts.
“I brought my wife and kids to as many pow wows and meetings as I could, and the kids all have tribal names,” he said. “For the culture to survive, you must pass it on. In the book, I explain that if it’s not shared, then we will get the ‘wannabe’ version of American Indian history.”
He said research for the book brought him to see friends he had not seen in years, and they reconnected through Native dress and dance and sharing stories.
But he said preserving his culture has been difficult, especially in the past 15 years. After Hurricane Katrina, he said the pow wows in Louisiana began to diminish.
So when another teacher asks, he gladly dances or plays the flute for students, even visiting elementary or middle schools. “I love to do whatever I can that will bring my culture alive for students,” he said. “One of the best things ever said to me (was by) a student who thanked me for what I taught her. Not about science, she said ‘but what you really taught me is when I see people dressed as Indians, I now know that is wrong.’”
He said that lesson is at the heart of “American Indian Sovereignty.”
“People just don’t realize what we are all about. I often call the native people the Forgotten Minority. I want people to realize that there is more to American Indians than a Halloween costume or the ‘Pocahontas’ movie.”
Hazlett said he is already thinking about his next project and is hoping to work with friend Randy Verdun, former chief of the Biloxi Chitimacha Choctaw tribe in Louisiana, possibly even creating a historical account geared toward children.
“American Indian Sovereignty: The Struggle for Religious, Cultural and Tribal Independence” can be ordered at (800) 253-2187 or at www.mcfarlandpub.com.