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Native American, Indigenous Studies Initiative to establish concentration

$750,000 grant from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support concentration

The University’s Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative plans to establish a concentration with the help of a $750,000 grant awarded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation last month.

The NAISI Steering Committee and staff will work to implement the concentration before the end of the three-year grant period with the help of new Associate Director Rae Gould, who was hired this summer.

“From my perspective, it’s one of the most important things we can do for Indigenous Peoples,” Gould said.

NAISI is “an interdisciplinary initiative of faculty and students interested in teaching and research that explores and increases the understanding of the cultural traditions and political experiences of Indigenous Peoples,” according to its website.

Building this concentration made sense for the University, said Shankar Prasad, deputy provost for global engagement and strategic initiatives. The University is uniquely positioned for this effort because of resources like the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, the John Carter Brown Library and interested faculty and students, Prasad added.

Concentrators will have access to collections at the Haffenreffer, which is home to more than one million objects and includes an extensive collection of Native American artifacts. “It’s important that we work with Native people today and we understand what is happening within their communities,” said Robert Preucel, director of the Haffenreffer Museum, professor of anthropology and member of the NAISI steering committee.

Currently, the University’s curricular offerings in Native American and Indigenous Studies are limited to areas of focus within the ethnic studies, American studies and Latin American and Caribbean studies concentrations.

“It’s not just something that we’re setting up for Native students to study their communities, though I do think that’s something that’s important,” said Elizabeth Hoover, chair of NAISI and associate professor of American studies. “It’s also focused on helping non-Indigenous students understand all those different facets.”

Hoover believes that it is important to study indigenous history in a number of contexts. “There are a lot of positions in which somebody could find themselves interacting with Indigenous folks, whether as an educator or a politician or a healthcare provider or any number of roles,” Hoover said. “I want people to be able to have a grounding and an understanding of this bit of history and people and cultures and languages so that they will be better humans in these areas.”

Though students are not yet involved in planning the concentration, the steering committee intends to eventually include students in the process, Prasad said.

In addition to creating the new concentration, NAISI plans to use the grant to fund student internships and courses that include traveling. They also intend to hire a Tribal Community Member in Residence, who will help Native students transition to campus and provide resources to the University community, Hoover said.

“One of the many challenges for many Native students coming from a place so far from home is the culture shock and being in such a different place, a monogenerational space,” Hoover said.  In addition to giving some students a cultural connection, the member in residence could “help the (University) community to be able to better connect with indigenous communities and the research and cultural needs of those communities.”

The planned concentration and grant funding comes more than three years after the University announced its intention to launch a “Native American and Indigenous Peoples Initiative” in its Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan. That announcement followed long-term advocacy from students and faculty, The Herald previously reported.


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