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Native American Outreach, Inclusion Expands at Northwestern

Provost office gives update on University efforts following task force recommendations
  • University-wide Indigenous Studies Research Initiative launched by Weinberg dean
  • Native American events include commemoration of Sand Creek Massacre in November
  • New courses, hires and appointment to chair named after Native American alumnus
  • Daylong symposium to explore work of Native American artists, activists and scholars

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A search for two tenure-track faculty as well as for postdoctoral fellows who work in the field of indigenous studies are among the latest Northwestern University initiatives to address recommendations from the 2014 task force report on Native American outreach and inclusion. 

Conversations and efforts to facilitate a University-wide focus on Native American history, culture and inclusion at Northwestern have been taking place across the University following the task force recommendations, according to an update by the Office of the Provost.   

A major goal is to build a strong group of scholars working in indigenous studies across the University.

Guided by the provost’s office, the conversations have involved just about every area of the University as well as leaders from the Native American community and scholars doing leading work on evolving research about Native American culture, art, health, literature and history.

“We are excited about bringing new faculty to campus in addition to the faculty we’ve hired recently in indigenous studies,” Northwestern Provost Daniel Linzer said. “Their work will address important local, national and global concerns and play a key role in our evolving efforts to integrate Native American scholarship, culture and perspectives into the life of the campus.”

The leadership of Jabbar R. Bennett, who joined Northwestern in July as the inaugural associate provost for diversity and inclusion, will be central to Northwestern’s Native American inclusion efforts. The University also recently announced a search for an assistant director for Native American student outreach and inclusion.

The new assistant director will be jointly employed by Undergraduate Admissions and Multicultural Student Affairs, providing an important bridge for carrying out strategic goals of the two units. He or she will coordinate recruitment of underrepresented students, with an emphasis on Native Americans, and join a team that does programming for the multicultural student population.  

“This new assistant director position provides Northwestern with a great opportunity to advance diversity, a key strategic priority,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said. “We strongly believe that people of different backgrounds challenge and broaden our understanding of the world and are integral to the education we provide at Northwestern.”

The initiatives also include new courses, faculty hires and an appointment to an academic chair named after an early Native American alumnus leader. 

“The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America” is the recommended “One Book” read for the entire University this year and the centerpiece of lectures, films and other programs. The author, Thomas King, recently participated in discussions related to the book on the Evanston and Chicago campuses.

And this fall, the Dittmar Gallery hosted an exhibit of works by descendants of the Sand Creek Massacre, graphically illustrating the focal point of a study by Northwestern scholars and leading experts in Native American and U.S. history from other universities that led to the formation of the task force and its report on Native American outreach and inclusion.   

The massacre occurred Nov. 29, 1864, when John Evans, one of Northwestern University’s founders, was the governor and superintendent of Indian Affairs of the Colorado Territory. During the massacre, U.S. Army Cavalry soldiers slaughtered approximately 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho, most of them women and children. In its aftermath, Evans was forced to resign.

For the second year, a commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre and other events will take place on campus during Native American Heritage Month in November.

More on the latest Native American outreach and inclusion initiatives follows:  

• On Oct. 20, Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph announced the Indigenous Studies Research Initiative. The aim is to build a critical mass of scholars working in the field of indigenous studies across the University and for them to work in a highly collegial environment that supports intellectual diversity and cross-disciplinary work.

Central to the initiative are searches for two tenure-track faculty members. When appointed, both of the junior scholars will have appointments in well-established Northwestern institutes that are nationally known for interdisciplinary scholarship as well as in their respective academic departments. One scholar will work in the area of social disparities and have an appointment at the Institute for Policy Research; the other will work in the area of creativity, history and/or cultural expression and be part of the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.

At the same time, a search will take place for postdoctoral fellows in the areas of Native American and indigenous studies, and departments will be challenged to identify talented, tenured colleagues outside the University who might consider joining the Northwestern faculty as a leader of this initiative.

As the Weinberg initiative gains momentum, faculty and postdoctoral fellows will design related courses for undergraduate and graduate students, and the administration will make sure that Native American/Indigenous Studies at Northwestern is closely aligned and coordinated with other Chicago-area resources, including, among others, the D'Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies at the Newberry Library, the American Indian Center of Chicago and the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston.

•  Thomas McDade, professor of anthropology, faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research and director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern, recently was appointed as the Carlos Montezuma Professor of Anthropology. In October, his new appointment was recognized in an investiture ceremony. McDade does research on indigenous people in Bolivia and Ecuador and on how local cultural transitions associated with globalization affect human development and health. An anthropologist with a biological focus, McDade is a specialist in how physiological processes are shaped by and regulated by social and cultural circumstances.

• In September, Janet Dees joined the curatorial team of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art. Dees’ focus is on modern and contemporary art with a global perspective. Throughout her career, she has worked with African, African-American, Native American and Latin American artists to weave their diasporas into the study of modern and contemporary art.

•  Two faculty members with interests related to Native Americans joined Northwestern this year.  Kelly Wisecup, assistant professor of English, specializes in Native American literature, early American literature and culture and medicine and literature in the Atlantic world.  Margaret Pollak, a lecturer in global health studies and anthropology, does research that relates to medical anthropology and American Indian studies.

• The Native American Leadership Council at Northwestern University met for the first time in May 2015 and provided important perspective to faculty, staff and students throughout the University. Members include: Bryan Brayboy, professor of indigenous education, Arizona State University; Louis Delgado, board membr, Native Americans in Philanthropy in Chicago; Verna Fowler, president, College of the Menominee Nation, Wisconsin; Ryan Greendeer, executive government relations officer, Ho-Chunk Nation, Wisconsin; Andrew Johnson, executive director, American Indian Center of Chicago; Quinton Roman Nose, executive director, Tribal Education Departments National Assembly, Colorado; Rick West, president, Autry National Center of the American West, Los Angeles; and Gordon Yellowman, a peace chief of the Southern Cheyenne, Oklahoma.

• Since winter quarter 2015, a number of courses have been offered across nine different departments/programs, including: “Global Health and Indigenous Medicine,” Global Health 305; “How the Indians Lost Their Land,” Legal Studies, 376; “Native Americans and Environmental Decision Making,” Psychology 332;  “Native American Health,” Anthropology 390; “Native Americans in the Age of Revolutions,” History 492; “Native American Literature: Place and Historical Memory,” English 378; “Native American Perspectives on Environmental Justice,” Religion 369; “Native Americans Tell Their Stories,” Journalism 390; “Native Peoples of the Americas,” Anthropology 101; “Native Resistance,” Latino Studies 391; and “Unredeemed Captives,” English 378.

• See the Office of the Provost website on Native American Inclusion and the One Book One Northwestern site for 2015-2016  featuring “The Inconvenient Indian” by Thomas King.

Highlights of upcoming Native American related events

  • A Commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre” will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, in an event organized by the Northwestern University Native American and Indigenous Student Association  (NAISA) and members of the Chicago Indian community.   

See Northwestern News coverage of last year’s event on the 150th anniversary of Sand Creek Massacre.

  • A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek,” a discussion led by Ari Kelman, the McCabe Greer Professor of History at Penn State University, will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. The event is sponsored by Northwestern’s Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities.     
  • Epidemics and Native American Literature: Rethinking Narratives of Disease and Disappearance,” a talk by Kelly Wisecup, assistant professor in the department of English at Northwestern, will take place at noon Feb. 10, 2016. Part of the Native American and Indigenous Lecture Series, the talk is organized by International Program Development and Global Health Studies and co-sponsored by the department of history.
  • Creating Nations: Past, Present and Future,” a one-day symposium from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 1, 2016, will explore the work of contemporary Native American artists, activists and scholars in relation to historical trauma, sovereignty and nation building. The symposium will be presented by the Colloquium on Indigeneity and Native American Studies (CINAS) in collaboration with One Book One Northwestern, the Center for the Writing Arts and International Program Development.