Brice Obermeyer, professor of anthropology, has been teaching at Emporia State since 2004. Obermeyer holds a doctorate in anthropology with a focus in cultural anthropology from the University of Oklahoma and became interested in Native Americans as a young child.
“Growing up on a farm, you find cow bones and rocks and different things and you wonder where they come from,” Obermeyer said. “Being from Eastern Nebraska, you live in counties like Otoe and Nemaha and you learn in school that these are Indian Tribes but these are Indian Tribes that are no longer here – a general curiosity kind of builds from that.”
Obermeyer began his undergraduate work studying archeology. He said he was studying both archeology as well as ethnography. In the end, Obermeyer’s desire to teach led him to focus more on ethnography.
“The reality is ethnography, if you want an academic job, ethnography is more marketable,” Obermeyer said. “I wanted to teach and I wanted to go in that direction, so I do both but I’m primarily interested in ethnography…. I would say as an ethnographer one of the things that we do is taped interviews. It is interesting to be on this side of the tape recorder.”
Obermeyer is the only anthropologist at ESU. While ESU does not offer anthropology as a major, it is offered as a minor. Obermeyer teaches a variety of classes in anthropology at ESU, including forensic anthropology, native peoples of North America, magic witchcraft and religion, human evolution and civilization and an introduction to cultural anthropology class. Obermeyer is currently teaching a course titled “folklore and urban legend.”
“He’s always been a well prepared instructor and he always makes class interesting,” said James Morrison, junior social science major. “It’s a unique class and it’s fun studying something different like urban legends compared to like a biology class.”
In addition to teaching classes, Obermeyer sponsors the Anthropology Club and is also offering a field school over the summer. The field school will run from May 17-25 at the Delaware Pow-wow in Bartlesville, Okla. and the Wichita Mountains.
“If you are interested in cultural anthropology, you must do an ethnographic field school,” Obermeyer said. “For the practical reason, graduate schools are going to want you to have that experience. The more personal reason is that during that experience you really decide if this is what you want to do.”
Outside of teaching, Obermeyer has spent many years working closely with the Delaware Tribe in Oklahoma through helping them to become federally recognized. An agreement signed in 1867 has prevented the Delaware Tribe from being distinguished from the Cherokee Nation, despite having an independent culture of its own.
“The Cherokees claim that even though the Delaware are separate and identifiable, they signed this agreement that says they are Cherokee citizens and thus we have jurisdiction over the Delaware citizenship,” Obermeyer said. “The Delaware counter that we have may have signed it but we have remained separate and we now deserve federal recognition. It’s been a debate that’s been going for 140 years.”
Obermeyer’s most recent accomplishment is a book that is being published by the University of Nebraska Press about the Delaware and Cherokee conflict. The book is entitled “Delaware Tribe in a Cherokee Nation,” and will come out this fall.
Students of his say that his experience in the field has enhanced their experiences in the classroom.
“It was interesting how he could tie in his work with the Delaware tribe with the material we covered in class,” said Evan Janzen, senior biochemistry, molecular biology and history major who has taken two classes with Obermeyer. “Knowing that he has actually had experiences in anthropology makes it easier to learn.”
Obermeyer is also the Delaware Tribe’s representative to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Obermeyer helps document and repatriate Delaware human remains and funerary objects held by museums throughout North America. He is currently working on a project in Pennsylvania. No longer on the payroll of the Delaware Tribe, Obermeyer agreed to work as a volunteer representative.
In his personal life, Obermeyer enjoys spending time with his wife and three kids. He also enjoys camping, hiking and the outdoors in general.
Brett Mize/The Bulletin