By Julia Ferrante
LEWISBURG, Pa. - A Los Angeles-based film crew visited the Susquehanna Valley last week to interview Professor of German and Humanities Katie Faull about her research on a group of Moravian missionaries who formed an unlikely alliance with the Iroquois Nations.
Indigo Project Media was collecting footage for a documentary called "NATIVE," which will tell stories of Native American culture and address the environmental, economical and social challenges Native Americans face today, said Saray Deiseil, chief operating officer of the company and a NATIVE producer. The film crew will be in production for another year and hopes to show the documentary at an upcoming film festival.
Deiseil and fellow producer Michelle Cassel interviewed Faull on Sunday at a spot near the Susquehanna River confluence in Sunbury and again Friday at Hunter House, the headquarters of the Northumberland County Historical Society. They focused on her translations of Moravian diaries, which offer an unusual glimpse into the daily interactions of the Moravians and their Native American counterparts.
"We talked about the Native American presence here in the Susquehanna Valley and environmental concerns, the history of the river," Faull said before Friday's shoot. "What attracted them to me was the Moravian research and how I got involved in it because of a student."
Deiseil and the her company contacted Faull after learning that she was awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities in 2009 for her collaborative research and translations of the mid-18th century Moravian diaries, most of which were written in German.
The project also has been designated an NEH "We the People" project and is supported in part by funds for that initiative. The goal of "We the People" is to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study and understanding of U.S. history and culture.
"One of our researchers found out about Katie's research on the Internet," Deiseil said. "She is great. We don't really have to ask her a lot of questions. She's a natural."
Sunbury was a Native American capital in the 18th century, yet until now the history has been largely untold, said Cindy Inkrote, director of the Northumberland County Historical Society. Faull's translations of the Moravian diaries are providing invaluable insight.
Cultures of the Confluence
Faull's research is part of a larger, cross-disciplinary program at the Bucknell Environmental Center, "Cultures at the Confluence," which involves several efforts to uncover and highlight the history of the Susquehanna River Valley. Those efforts include mapping an extension of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail with the National Park Service (The U.S. Department of Interior is expected to announce a decision on this proposal at the Susquehanna River Symposium Oct. 23 at Bucknell); the creation of a Susquehanna River writers Institute, run for the first time last summer with a gift from the John Ben Snow Foundation; a study of the various functions of local river towns; and mapping of treasured native landscapes of the contact period in the 17th and 18th century. The confluence is where the northern and western branches of the Susquehanna River and Shamokin Creek blend together to form the main branch.
Student was inspiration
Faull began researching the diaries in 2006 after a student, Jenny Stevens, Class of '07, asked Faull what she knew about the Moravians in Sunbury. Faull has received two other NEH grants for her work on the Moravians, but she didn't know much about the Moravian mission in Sunbury. Stevens' question inspired her to find out. Her research began with an online catalogue of the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem.
Although some sections of the diaries have deteriorated, the detailed accounts provide evidence that the Moravians and their Native American friends forged an unusually cooperative relationship, sharing food, shelter and their cultures, through song and dance.
The Moravians, who came from a small Protestant church founded by the charismatic Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf, were invited to Sunbury by the Iroquois Chief Shikellamy in 1742 after running into problems with the Colonial authorities for aiding Native Americans.
The diaries include accounts of the Moravians' interactions with Chief Shikellamy, the Oneida nation's vice-regent who was sent by the Iroquois to oversee political treaties with the British as well as a trading post. In a section by David Zeisberger, a well-known missionary, is a detailed account of Shikellamy's death.
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