March 27, 2014

By Siran Liang, Staff Writer

UMF Professor Gustavo Aguilar (courtesy of Siran Liang)

UMF Professor Gustavo Aguilar (courtesy of Siran Liang)

“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-
Canada border.

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

remake ourselves.”