Newsmakers you should know: Couple dedicated to sharing Native American culture

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Earl and Lenora "Lee" Dingus may be Native Americans, but that doesn't mean they live in a teepee, wear feathers and war paint or ride horses to work.

"We may live right next door to you and you don't even know we are Native Americans," Mrs. Dingus said.

The couple work hard to educate the public about Native Americans, and they traveled to Washington, D.C., in the fall for a presentation to the Environmental Protection Association. Mr. and Mrs. Dingus often make educational presentations and are the founders of "Echoes of the Four Directions," a cultural, education and referral organization.

According to Mrs. Dingus, the two met while they were still in high school. Mr. Dingus is Tsalagi (Cherokee), and Mrs. Dingus is Haudenosaunee (Seneca). The two formed their organization 35 years ago with the goal to educate others, Mrs. Dingus said.

"We had a mutual interest to create an understanding and awareness about Native American people," she said, "There are so many misconceptions, and we wanted to help others understand us."

In addition to her work with Echoes of the Four Directions, Mrs. Dingus was the chairperson and Native American program manager for the VA Pittsburgh Health Care System EEO Committee and was the Special Emphasis Program Manager for Native Americans for over 20 years with Veterans Affairs. Although she is now retired from the VA, she still serves as a volunteer adviser regarding Native American issues.

It is through this role that the two were invited to speak at the conference in Washington.

"We talk [about] our culture, show them various items, and many times Earl will play the flute," she explained.

Currently, Mrs. Dingus is the test center manager for Pearson Professional Center.

Mr. Dingus is retired from the Department of Defense and is now an assistant naturalist for Latodami Nature Center at North Park, a position that allows him to continue his mission to protect the environment -- a cause close to his heart.

According to Mr. Dingus, their culture is tied very closely to the natural world and he works hard to educate others about nature and to respect and protect it.

"When nature disappears, it is a sign that life is disappearing," he said. "At the Nature Center, we focus on environment and help people realize there is more to nature than just trees."

In addition to government agencies, the couple gives presentations to schools and other organizations. They also co-teach a course on Native American history at the Community College of Allegheny County.

"Many people grew up believing what they see on TV. Even teachers are very misinformed and are surprised with things that we teach," Mr. Dingus said.

Their presentations include using displays, demonstrations and flute performances. The two also sell their artwork -- Mr. Dingus is a silversmith and Mrs. Dingus is an artist in Native American beadwork and silver work.

Mr. Dingus also gives talks about the Native American Story Pole that is housed in the Latodami Nature Center.

According to Mrs. Dingus, there are approximately 1,200 Native Americans in the greater Pittsburgh area and approximately 530 nations in North America.

"People have such romantic ideas about Native Americans and they think we are all out west. We are a contemporary people and we still exist -- we live right here," Mrs. Dingus said.


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer:


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