Edwin Strong-Legs Richardson is a quintessential educator, just the kind of person to call on during American Indian Heritage Month. A psychologist -- in fact, the first Native American clinical psychologist in the United States -- professor, anthropologist and veteran of World War II, Richardson is above all a proficient talker, able to spin tales and deliver hard facts with equal facility. And when it comes to the subject of American Indians, he is heavily invested and knows his material inside and out.
As part of November's Heritage Month activities, Richardson will deliver a talk titled "Contributions of American Indians to History and Society" at several different locations, including George Mason University, where he teaches, and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"People talk about the Founding Fathers like they were some sort of great original geniuses," Richardson says, "and give you the impression that they came up with the American system of government out of their own heads. Well, they were smart men, but they had help. The American system of government, that's based on the Iroquois confederacy of nations."
If you want details, Richardson says, come on out. He has prepared and delivered many other presentations, including one called "The Indian Holocaust." "That one gets into the sad and cruel aspects of Indian history," he says, "but for the Heritage Month, I like to keep it a little more positive, more magnanimous."
Spreading the word is a family affair. Richardson, of the Penobscot tribe of Maine, presents his talks with his wife, Miyo Hunani Richardson, a Hawaiian, who runs the visuals and occasionally works in a word or two. Richardson also depends on audience participation, and likes things to be "freewheeling."
"This is a talk for Indians and non-Indians," he says. "I think what I'm talking about can be equally amazing to everybody, and I encourage questions."
The material and approach for each talk differs, Richardson says, depending on his audience and his own mood. The impact of the Iroquois on the U.S. Constitution is a favorite subject, but perhaps he'll concentrate on Indian contributions to modern diet or to modern medicine. Or perhaps engineering will come up; he especially enjoys making the case for the superiority of Incan road-builders to their Roman counterparts.
"First of all," Richardson says, "the Incas had fewer resources. And second, they were building up mountains. The Appian Way is impressive, but it's also flat most of the way." He pauses, the enjoyment of education bright in his voice. "Big difference."