Seneca Great-Grandmother Earns PhD in Transnational Studies
“My age never intervened in anything I accomplished at UB,” says Nancy Napierala, 78, who received her PhD in American studies last week from the Department of Transnational Studies at the University of Buffalo in New York.
“The department and my professors have always acknowledged my abilities and contributions, and respected my work,” she says, “and the other students welcomed me as a colleague and a friend.”
A wife and mother of two, grandmother of three and now a great-grandmother, Napierala is a lifelong learner who received a BA in early childhood development from UB in 2000 and an MA in American studies in 2005. She previously studied business at UB in the 1970s, and worked as a bookkeeper and office manager for 38 years.
“Academic pursuit comes naturally to me. Reading, studying, research, that’s what I do. That’s just me. I love it and I’ll miss it,” she says, adding that it has been her good fortune to work under faculty members like the late John Mohawk, Barry White and Oren Lyons, members of the Six Nations who were among the iconic founders of UB’s nationally recognized American studies department (now a program in the Department of Transnational Studies).
“While an undergraduate,” she says, “I learned about the department’s very strong Native American Studies Program and I’ve been very happily involved with it for 13 years.”
Napierala’s research focuses on the lives and experiences of urban Native-Americans in Buffalo during the 20th century, about which little has been written. Her interest was provoked by her own family experiences and illuminated further by an unusual and highly respected fellow Seneca, Pearl White of Buffalo’s West Side.
As a Cattaraugus Seneca Faithkeeper from the age of 17, White’s traditional role was to assist the head women and men of the Longhouse in maintaining Seneca spiritual practice and traditions.
“Longhouse” has several meanings in this context. It is a religion founded more than 200 years ago by the Allegany Seneca, Handsome Lake, and the locus of ceremonies and community gatherings by its members. It is also a collective metaphor for those who practice this spiritual tradition—the Haudenosaunee (pronounced Ho-deh-no-shaw-nee) or “People of the Longhouse”—whose vibrant culture is rooted in a way of life that goes back more than 500 years.
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