March 27, 2014
By Siran Liang, Staff Writer
“Fish is us. We are all related, we are all connected,” said Barry Dana in a
documentary film Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action, who was then canoeing
on the Penobscot River. He is a Native American, a tribe leader and an activist in
environmental protection who has been striving to deal with the increasing pollution
problems brought by the paper factories in Maine.
Sitting in front of the screen was Barry Dana himself, watching with his typical,
warm smile on his face, as if he was brought back to nine years ago, paddling along the
river, or maybe further, back to the summers in his childhood, when he used to swim in
the pure green and clear water.
In Room 220 of Merrill Hall last Saturday morning, a special class was taking place.
A group of thirteen students and four instructors, along with their guest Barry Dana were
quiet and concentrated on the film.
“It is our culture, our tradition, and the value that comes with the tradition is to save
the environment,” said Dana in the ending. With their eyes still fixed on the screen, some
students slightly nodded as assent; some holding their chin with their hand, were lost in
It was on the Rethinking Paul Bunyan Course, one of the new and experimental
courses at UMF this semester, which just started on Mar. 1st
Four professors, each from different field, are collaborating in this course: Prof.
Gustavo and Gaelyn Aguilar, respectively from Art and Anthropology department, Prof.
Jesse Potts who has advanced knowledge on sculpture, and Michael Romanyshyn, a
musician from Tempo Stream Theatre and a puppeteer.
The interdisciplinary feature was one of the appealing points to Brandon Monroe,
a student in the course. “I really like the anthropology sense: how we form identity
and then take that information and knowledge and put it into something artistic,” said
Monroe, “It is very fun and engaging to me.”
The idea of the course was formulated four years ago by Prof. Gustavo and Gaelyn
Aguilar when they first came to UMF. They both do border studies and found in Maine
the figure of Paul Bunyan, which is able to transcend border, claimed by five states and
two countries, by the business like logging companies and by working class. After years
of research and travels, they finally make it a course this semester.
According to Prof. Gustavo, the course mainly focuses on three words: prosperity,
knowledge and freedom. He hoped that through rethinking folktales of Paul Bunyan and
learning about the prosperity he created, students would be able to “put on a new suit” for
Paul Bunyan—how he was, is and should be viewed and depicted today.
Then students should reflect on the knowledge of Paul Bunyan and how it can be
applied to the society today and jumping from that, to learn about American identity, the
freedom that human being has so far attained and still keep pursuing.
There are few lecturing by the teachers but it is the students who are mostly engaged
in talking, discussing and exchanging ideas.
“If we succeed a little bit, is that we are all learners, including the professors,” said
Gustavo, “The professors should serve as facilitators and we facilitate the learning by
coming with a strong point of idea but we are careful not to move from one point to the
other. What is important is that we pay attention to the middle part.”
Monroe said that the professors do a good job splitting students into groups to have
further discussion to let students have personal connect with each other to share ideas.
“We (professors and students) talk together just as friends,” said Monroe, “I think that is
the best way for me to process information.”
Besides friendly discussions, the course is special also because it has many field
trips which provide students with opportunities to get in touch with local loggers, Native
Americans and different people.
Two weeks ago, the class just went to a farm in Skowhegan, where they met with the farm
owner, a logger, a forester and learnt about the logging industry today.
Talking about the trip, Monroe was excited and said that it changed his negative view
on logging. “What I learnt from the field trip was very beneficial and valuable,” said Monroe,
“How carefully they executed the operation…they really take care of the environment so that
it is a mutual harvest, they are taking trees and also giving back.”
Currently the class is preparing for a cross-border parade of Paul Bunyan on Apr. 19th
will act as a performance art, a medium to interact and engage with the culture across the US-
The class meets every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Prof. Gustavo said that
for such special project they are doing, long hours enables students to think and work
together without worrying having to stop and restarting again. It also has sufficient time
for having guests and going on field trips.
Students seem to have no problem with Saturday’s class too. “The first 40 minutes
is kind of difficult because you are waking up,” said Sarah Manley, a student in the
course, “It is good though. It seems long but the topic is interesting.”
Prof. Gustavo said that the ultimate goal of rethinking Paul Bunyan is actually
rethinking ourselves and nature and finding the balance between the two. “I hope it (the
course) makes students rethink that we can have solution and we can move forward,” said
Prof. Gustavo, “And the world is not this big super consumerism but we human can also