Skip to main content

Update on Native American and Indigenous Peoples initiatives

Following is a message sent to the Northwestern community.

In 2013, Northwestern University established the John Evans Study Committee and one year later, the group released its report and recommendations which resulted in new academic research, teaching and cultural efforts.  Subsequently, the Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force was created, the University observed Native American Heritage Month, and for the first time, acknowledged the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre. “The Inconvenient Indian” was chosen as the One Book One Northwestern reading selection for the 2015–16 academic year, with related programming that connected students, faculty and staff throughout academic year.  In 2015, the Office of Undergraduate Admission, and Student Affairs hired a full-time, shared staff person to work between their areas with a focus on Native American and Indigenous student recruitment and support.

The success of the One Book One Northwestern reading selection led to the formation of the Native American and Indigenous Peoples Steering Group, which worked during the 2016–17 academic year to sustain the momentum and interest in Native and Indigenous people, history and culture.  In addition, a temporary, one-year staff position was created in the Office of the President to help support the group and advise Northwestern on its broader efforts moving forward.  In 2017, oversight of this work shifted to the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. This fall the office hired a senior program coordinator for Native American and Indigenous Initiatives to help lead and coordinate the work across the University.

Northwestern this fall will host the Native American Leadership Council, a group of Native elders and professionals from across the country, for their third annual visit.  This group is convened by the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

In 2015, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences announced the Indigenous Studies Research Initiative and now has launched the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR).  The Center is Northwestern’s primary institutional space dedicated to advancing scholarship, teaching, learning, and artistic or cultural practices related to Native American and Indigenous communities, priorities, histories, and lifeways. It operates as a hub for multi-disciplinary, collaborative work informed by and responsive to Native American and Indigenous nations, communities, and organizations.  Douglas Medin, professor of psychology, and Patty Loew, professor of journalism, will co-chair CNAIR.

In addition to these academic initiatives, the University is undertaking several steps to promote learning about John Evans, his past and to work toward the present and future wellbeing of Cheyenne and Arapaho people and of the Native peoples on whose homelands the University sits.  Evans, one of the co-founders of Northwestern and a long-time member of its Board of Trustees, served as Governor of Colorado Territories from 1862–65, a role that included acting as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  It was during this time, that the bloody Sand Creek Massacre occurred in which scores of Cheyenne and Arapaho people, mostly women and children, were slaughtered by a volunteer army regiment.  Northwestern University acknowledges this fact as well as the multi-generational trauma that the Sand Creek Massacre caused for Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples.  A comprehensive exhibit about Evans and his role in the massacre will be created for display in the John Evans Center, the building located at the corner of Clark Street and Sheridan Road. 

Jabbar R. Bennett
Associate Provost and Chief Diversity Officer