Weinberg faculty call for Native American Studies Department as leadership council visits campus

Madeline Fox, Assistant Campus Editor

Several Weinberg professors are calling for a Native American Studies Department in a proposal submitted to the dean’s office last week.

The seven professors who submitted the proposal comprise a committee tasked with creating a plan for a Native American Studies program and Indigenous Research Center.

Senior Associate Dean for Faculty John Franks in February asked the committee to create a proposal for the research center and academic program.

Asian American Studies Prof. Ji-Yeon Yuh, a member of the committee who has also been active in advocating for an Asian American Studies major, said the committee was not given a specific framework or budget constraint for the proposal. She said the committee used recommendations from the Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force as a guide.

“We were told we could interpret it however we wanted to interpret it, so that’s what we did,” Yuh said.

The Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force was established in Fall 2013 to examine how the University can improve relationships with Native American students, staff and faculty and with Native groups in the Chicago area while a committee investigated University founder John Evans’ role in the Sand Creek Massacre, a mass killing of members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The task force released its recommendations in November 2014 and called for the establishment of an Indigenous Research Center and a minor or certificate program in Native American Studies.

The committee pushed the task force’s recommendations further, calling for a fully staffed department with 12 tenure-track faculty lines split between it and the research center. The committee is also urging existing Weinberg departments to use their own tenure track lines to staff the department.

“We really want to push all these departments to be invested, materially invested, in Native American studies,” Yuh said.

The professors on the committee also call for four search committees to be formed in Fall Quarter: one for the director of the Indigenous Research Center, one for the head of the Native American Studies Department and two more for scholars in the department, Yuh said. She said she hopes the positions will be filled by next spring.

Weinberg senior Heather Menefee, co-founder of the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance and a member of the Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force, said the committee’s recommendations reflected the task force’s intentions.

“In the task force meetings, everyone on the task force pretty much wanted there to be a Native American Studies department and not just a minor,” Menefee said. “In a lot of ways the committee’s recommendations are truer to the intention of the task force than the actual report that was produced by the task force.”

Andrew Johnson, a member of the Chicago area Native community on campus Tuesday for the first meeting of the Native American Leadership Council — also the result of a task force recommendation — expressed his support for the committee’s proposals.

“(They are) something we would very, very much like to see and definitely support … but we’ve got to make sure that they indeed take place,” said Johnson, executive director of the American Indian Center of Chicago. “I feel a responsibility to the Native community to hold (the administration’s) feet to the fire.”

Nitasha Tamar Sharma, another member of the faculty committee and a professor of African American and Asian American Studies, said the professors worked to submit their recommendations before the council visited campus and were surprised to find their proposal had not been distributed to the council’s members when she and the other committee members spoke with the council during their visit. Sharma said the process was characterized by a “distinct lack of communication,” from the committee’s original establishment to the distribution of its final proposal.

Provost Dan Linzer said the intention behind forming a Native American Leadership Council and bringing it to campus was to create a relationship between the University and the greater Native community of Chicago.

“We wanted to open a dialogue with leaders in the Native American community in various tribes so we gain their insights and knowledge and perspectives that help us as we do more in this area,” Linzer said. “They can be terrific ambassadors for what they see here and help us communicate that to their communities, so it’s opening up the doors for communication and learning.”

Tyler Pager contributed reporting.

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