Through Na­tive eyes

In­dige­nous Lib­eral Stud­ies

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Casey Sanchez

In­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts last year, Alli Moran is ready­ing her­self for law school by de­vel­op­ing the Ocˇéti Šakówin Schol­ars Al­liance, a men­tor­ing com­mu­nity for other as­pir­ing tribal lawyers in the Great Plains re­gion. The twenty-four-year-old Cheyenne River Lakota Na­tion mem­ber is one of the few grad­u­ates of IAIA to have earned the col­lege’s de­gree in in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies.

“I chose to pur­sue my higher ed­u­ca­tion at the In­sti­tute of Amer­i­can In­dian Arts solely be­cause of the in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies de­gree pro­gram,” Moran said. “I wanted to learn from an in­dige­nous per­spec­tive and learn from tra­di­tional knowl­edge and oral his­to­ries. Ul­ti­mately, I aimed to learn how to re­vi­tal­ize our cul­tures and up­hold our cul­tural value and knowl­edge sys­tems within the pro­gres­sive west­ern­ized sys­tem we now live in.”

As a stu­dent, she got to study with N. Scott Mo­ma­day, the Kiowa writer and Pulitzer Prizewin­ning nov­el­ist. “He is very elo­quent and his voice sounds like thun­der. I loved his class be­cause he taught us a gen­er­a­tion’s worth of wis­dom through his teach­ings of in­dige­nous knowl­edge and the im­por­tance of lan­guage- and place-based re­la­tion­ships.”

Moran’s dual in­ter­est in in­dige­nous and Western knowl­edge sys­tems, along with her plans to put her ed­u­ca­tion to prac­ti­cal use as a tribal lawyer, is what IAIA had in mind when it be­gan craft­ing the in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies de­part­ment dur­ing the past decade. “What we asked with in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies is how can we find the best way to cre­ate well-rounded stu­dents who can come back to their com­mu­nity and do some good,” said Stephen Wall (White Earth Reser­va­tion), who chairs the de­part­ment at IAIA. He was hired in 2006 to launch the pro­gram at the be­hest of ac­cred­i­ta­tion of­fi­cials who told the school it lacked a gen­eral stud­ies pro­gram — es­sen­tially a lib­eral arts de­gree. The school of­fered its first in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies classes in the fall of 2007, granted its first as­so­ci­ate de­gree in the ma­jor in 2009, and its first bach­e­lor’s de­grees in 2011.

“We’re a very unique in­sti­tu­tion. We needed to pro­vide a ma­jor for stu­dents not ma­jor­ing in stu­dio arts. But we’re too small to of­fer a tra­di­tional lib­eral arts de­gree with the range of English, an­thro­pol­ogy, so­ci­ol­ogy, sci­ence classes, and so on,” Wall said. So Wall and school ad­min­is­tra­tors and pro­fes­sors be­gan col­lab­o­rat­ing on a pro­gram that would sur­vey the tra­di­tional do­mains of the lib­eral arts — hu­man­i­ties, so­cial and nat­u­ral sciences — while build­ing on IAIA’s knowl­edge base of Na­tive Amer­i­can civ­i­liza­tions and ad­vanc­ing its cul­tural mis­sion to de­velop grad­u­ates who will strengthen tribal com­mu­ni­ties.

The school has a long tra­di­tion of pro­duc­ing grads who go on to be­come self-sus­tain­ing artists with strong ties to their tribal com­mu­ni­ties; the stu­dent body hails from as many as 112 North Amer­i­can tribes and bands. Classes and cer­tifi­cates in busi­ness en­trepreneur­ship are also of­fered as part of the in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies pro­gram, a move that sup­ports the stu­dent need to find or cre­ate jobs in eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed re­gions.

“The in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies pro­gram is a tour of the in­dige­nous world,” Wall said. “We re­quire Na­tive Amer­i­can his­tory, a sur­vey art course, a course on the cul­tural an­thro­pol­ogy of North Amer­i­can In­di­ans, classes on tra­di­tional arts and ecol­ogy.” One of the re­quired classes, “See­ing the World Through Na­tive Eyes,” is of­fered on­line.” We also want stu­dents to be­come fa­mil­iar with on­line ed­u­ca­tion, as that is how many other col­leges and univer­si­ties are pro­vid­ing in­struc­tion,” Wall said.

One cur­rent of­fer­ing, “Amer­i­can In­dian Map­ping: Con­fig­ur­ing Space and Time,” ex­am­ines his­tor­i­cal Na­tive Amer­i­can tech­niques for map­ping, nav­i­gat­ing and trav­el­ing as tribes ex­plored the Amer­i­cas, an­a­lyz­ing the ways in which Na­tive Amer­i­cans rep­re­sented their en­vi­ron­ment. Other classes of­fered by the de­part­ment in­clude “In­dige­nous Sta­tis­tics,” “How In­di­ans Made America: Amer­i­can His­tory Be­fore Colum­bus,” “Con­tem­po­rary Tribal Gov­ern­ments,” and a se­nior sem­i­nar on post­mod­ernism that ex­am­ines changes in art, phi­los­o­phy, and lit­er­a­ture since 1950 from the van­tage point of Euro­pean, Amer­i­can, and in­dige­nous crit­ics.

Sev­eral of the cour­ses are re­search-based, where stu­dents must con­duct an orig­i­nal project driven both by their own in­ter­ests and by the need of a par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity. “It’s not just a class built on writ­ing a twenty-page pa­per based only on some books you read,” said Wall. “We re­quire that they get out into a com­mu­nity, con­duct in­ter­views, do a sur­vey of their needs. And also that they are re­spect­ful do­ing so. Where nec­es­sary, we re­quire that they get the per­mis­sion of the tribe or other lo­cal of­fi­cials to do their re­search.”

As an ex­am­ple of the com­mu­nity-based, re­search-driven ap­proach, he cites the work of a re­cent grad who came to IAIA from the Pine Ridge Reser­va­tion in South Dakota. Un­der the aus­pices of a se­nior cap­stone project, he es­sen­tially de­liv­ered a com­mu­nity-needs as­sess­ment around the creation of an el­e­men­tary char­ter school in the Sioux com­mu­nity. Another stu­dent made trips to the Sono­ran desert to con­duct an oral his­tory from the ac­counts of ag­ing el­ders of the To­hono O’odham, an in­dige­nous tribe whose land strad­dles the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

“The slo­gan for the in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies pro­gram is ‘In­dige­nous Knowl­edge for Schol­ar­ship and Lead­ers,’ “Wall said. “We’re not try­ing to pro­duce grad­u­ates who are only go­ing to be aca­demics. It’s aimed at stu­dents who want to go back to their com­mu­ni­ties and want knowl­edge and re­search tech­niques that will help them be an as­set to these com­mu­ni­ties. At the same time, we have a lot of stu­dents who have ur­ban back­grounds, who are not go­ing back to the reser­va­tion. The pro­gram serves them, too, with giv­ing them the tools they need to go back into their com­mu­ni­ties and make a dif­fer­ence too.”

Re­cent IAIA grad­u­ate Alli Moran; top, Stephen Wall, chair, IAIA’s in­dige­nous lib­eral stud­ies de­part­ment; photo Ja­son S. Or­daz

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