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Helen Clark Rountree is retiring at the end of this semester after 31 years at Old Dominion. Widely regarded as an outstanding teacher and scholar, she became a nationally recognized expert in the study of North American Indian culture.

Her unique research, scholarship and field work have provided significant insights on the Powhatan Indians and other tribes that inhabited eastern Virginia and the East Coast from the early 1600s the present.

"Dr. Rountree has had a profound influence on hundreds of anthropology students in her department. Her dedication to her subject, her high academic standards and her outstanding research on Native Americans have been an inspiration to students and faculty alike," said Karen Gould, dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

"I have no doubt that she will continue to be a dynamic presence in her field after her retirement from Old Dominion. We will miss her dearly."

Rountree's groundbreaking scholarship crossed the boundaries of anthropology to include ethnohistory. The merger of these intellectual streams and methodology has provided scholars, students and the public a comprehensive view of Indian life and culture in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Before Disney Studios turned out its animated hit "Pocahontas" in 1995, Rountree was known for her research primarily among fellow scholars. But almost immediately after the movie's premiere, her name popped up frequently in the media as an expert source on the Indian girl, based on her field work with Virginia's Powhatan and the Western Shoshone Native American tribes.

She was quoted by news outlets nationwide and in Canada, counting the historical inaccuracies of the film -- namely that Pocahontas was not a tall, thin "Buckskin Barbie," as one newspaper article said at the time. Rather, according to Rountree, she was a short, bald and naked adolescent laborer for her tribe.

Rountree received a 1995 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education. In the nomination materials, students raved about her classes. "Ms. Rountree is a top-notch teacher," one student said in an evaluation. "They don't get much better . . . in terms of enthusiasm and knowledge on course material."

With the money she received from the award, Rountree published a children's book later that year, "Young Pocahontas in the Indian World," to set the record straight as a response to the Disney movie.

Known as a teacher who could draw her students into the excitement of her discipline, she helped them understand human behavior and culture through the integration of her field work, research and travels, which included visits to U.S. Indian reservations, Mexico, Peru, England and the African nations Ivory Coast and Tanzania.

Rountree brought other cultures and times to life in the classroom by sharing artifacts she had collected during her field work.

Through the years, Rountree's work earned her the trust of local Indian tribes, including the Nansemond and Upper Mattaponi, who made her an honorary member. Her professional associations include a life membership in the American Anthropological Association.

Rountree's list of publications is extensive. It includes four academic books about Virginia Indians. She also was a consultant on "Algonquians of the East Coast," part of a Time-Life Books series on American Indian tribes, and was a regional consultant for the first episode of PBS's "Land of the Eagles" series on the Mid-Atlantic region.

This article was posted on: December 21, 1999

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