A former Tribal Historian in Native American Studies, UMass Amherst UWW graduate Donna Moody '11 worked as a nurse for 42 years, and has represented the entire Abenaki tribe for almost 20 years. Since completing her bachelor's degree, this 67 year old Vermonter has received a Master’s degree in Anthropology and is now in pursuit of a PhD at UMass Amherst. Her UWW advisor: Shekhar Regmi. Her concentration: Ethnohistory.
Every non-traditional age student has a story. What’s your story?
In the spring of 2008, I was invited to be the Tribal Historian in Residence for the Certificate Program in Native American Indian Studies (CPNAIS). As the Tribal Historian, I had the luxury of researching any topic, attending lectures and the yearly symposium, and meeting with Native students. The Tribal Historian also lectures in Anthro 370/670: Contemporary Issues in Native America, focusing on the Northeast. During that period I met instructors in the Anthro department and Michael Blakey, a PhD grad of UMass Amherst who had been the P.I. for the NYC African Burial Ground. I so thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks on campus researching and writing, engaging in intellectual discussions, and being energized by the enthusiasm of youth.
I had ended a 42 year career in nursing in 2006. I quickly realized I needed to continue to generate an income as nursing in NH and VT is not a lucrative profession (so I had little retirement/savings), and I enjoyed researching, writing, and teaching. I spoke with Jean Forward, the Director of the CPNAIS program, about options that would allow me to return to an academic setting. Jean introduced me to UWW faculty member and advisor Ingrid Bracey and the rest is history. I was accepted into the UWW program for the spring semester of 2009 at the age of 57. UMass accepted 52 transfer credits from my nursing program which, along with a 27 credit portfolio, allowed me to complete my B.A. in five semesters. In all honesty, I was dragging my feet here a bit; I was enjoying the experience so much that I didn’t want to be done with classes, so what should have taken me only three or four semesters ended up being five.
As I was finishing my fourth semester as an undergrad, I knew I wasn’t yet ‘completed.’ I also realized that with only a B.A., I couldn’t teach nor could I obtain grant monies to do research and write. So I applied to graduate studies in Anthropology for my M.A. Again, after my first semester in grad school, I realized I needed to go all the way through the PhD and changed my status to M.A./PhD. UMass has come through again: thanks to Teaching Assistantships, my tuition, medical insurance, and most fees have been paid for.
I relentlessly pushed myself during the first year of grad school, completed all requirements for my M.A. in three semesters and successfully defended my thesis on March 29, 2013. I am now officially a PhD student. But none of this would have been possible without UWW, Ingrid Bracey, my advisor Shekhar Regmi, and UWW faculty member Lee Manchester. The core curriculum at UWW is very do-able. The gift of receiving credit for life experience—WOW. My 27 credit portfolio translated to nine courses. UWW simply makes it easy for those of us whose education was interrupted by life events, or who did not have an opportunity to attend college upon high school graduation, to pursue our dreams and benefit from educational advantages.
We heard that your children and grandchildren were deployed to Afganistan at the same time.
In January of 2010 both of my sons, one grandson, and one grand-daughter were all deployed to Afghanistan for the entire year—they returned home at the middle/end of December, 2010. To say it was a difficult year doesn’t quite cover the worry, fear, and constant watching of news. Several young men from their units were killed and several others severely wounded. On November 12th, my eldest son’s convoy was hit with an IED. He has some residual physical effects from that experience but is basically OK.
Talk about your role as a Tribal Elder.
I have been the Abenaki Nation Repatriation and Sacred Site Protection Coordinator for almost 19 years. Until 2004, that position represented the entire Abenaki Nation in the U.S. In 2004, political factions separated. Since that time, I have represented a coalition of Abenaki groups in this role. I have three children, 14 grandchildren, and (counting the three due this year) seven great-grandchildren—almost a ‘tribe’ in and of itself. I am a tradition keeper for my extended family and the elder of my very large nuclear family.
What was the best part of earning credit for your life and work experience by writing a portfolio?
The best part of writing my portfolio was that, while I was a good writer, the experience made me a much better writer. This is an invaluable gift in graduate school.
What was your favorite class at UMass Amherst?
My favorite class(es) at UMass were the two with Anthropology professor Whitney Battle-Baptiste on-campus: Gender and Slavery in the Americas and Anthropology of Slavery. Online favorites were my writing class with Shekhar Regmi and Public Policy with Lee Manchester.
How do you balance work, school, and family?
I’m not certain I did balance everything very well, or continue to. I often tell people that I have no life. I missed grandchildren’s birthday parties and school events, saw my friends socially only a couple of times a year, and especially when I was on-campus, really saw my husband only every two to three weeks when I returned home for a weekend. Come to think of it, this is still going on in grad school!
What are your future plans professionally and personally?
I would like to teach one or two courses a semester someplace. But I really want to do research and write. I have some vague plans of helping to decolonize the field of cultural anthropology also. I consider myself as not a Cultural Anthropologist but an Indigenous Cultural Anthropologist. I’m hoping to do field work in the Azore Islands on slavery. Personally? I would love to spend quality time with my husband and lots of that at the ocean.
What advice do you have for other students finishing their degrees?
Stick with this. Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, you have no life outside of studying right now. Yes, I know at least three times a week you want to walk away. The gifts of accomplishment, achievement, and self-confidence may just be the most significant gifts you give to yourself and to those who you role model for in this life.