Patty Loew, former director of CNAIR, to phase in retirement in 2023


Joshua Perry/Daily Senior Staffer

Patty Loew, longtime director of Northwestern’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, is phasing in her retirement in August 2023.

Joshua Perry, Development and Recruitment Editor

Medill Prof. Patty Loew, former director of Northwestern’s Center for Native American and Indigenous Research, is phasing in her retirement and plans to depart the University in August 2023.

Loew, who is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, helped found CNAIR, built a community of Indigenous scholars at NU, worked to create a Native American and Indigenous Studies minor in Weinberg and fostered relationships between NU and tribal communities.

Lois Biggs (Weinberg ’20) said Loew started teaching at NU in 2017 about the same time she started her freshman year. Biggs, who is White Earth Ojibwe and Oklahoma Cherokee, was part of the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance when she met Loew. She said Loew has been a vital presence in the Native and Indigenous community on campus.

“Patty’s impact has been beyond what I can fully articulate,” Biggs said. “When I think about all of the changes that have happened and all of the really incredible strides that we’ve made … I can connect so many of those efforts to Patty.” 

Biggs said Loew has done incredible work furthering institutional growth and relational growth of the Native and Indigenous community at NU. In particular, Biggs said Loew has always been an advocate for Native and Indigenous students, connecting them to opportunities and networks to support their academic development.

SESP senior Isabel St. Arnold, who is Keweenaw Bay Ojibwe and co-chair of NAISA’s Council, said she got to know Loew during her freshman year when the professor looped her into a summer research opportunity. St. Arnold said Loew’s dedication to supporting her students is remarkable.

“She’s always trying to help everybody out,” St. Arnold said. “She just gives back so much to the community overall.”

Before her career as an educator, Loew was a broadcast journalist and documentary producer. Loew said working with communities and amplifying the voices of others has always been key to her journalistic practice. She said she was committed to taking special care to represent Indigenous communities in the media with accuracy and respect.

Storytelling and oral history is an indispensable element of Indigenous culture, she said. As a journalist, Loew said capturing the richness and nuance of those practices is important, especially when the media often misrepresents or warps Indigenous narratives.

“For me, to collect those stories is a really humbling gift,” she said. “When somebody trusts you with their values, their vision or their history, that’s a gift, and it is also an onus. You have to be responsible and hold that story and share it in a way that honors the person who gave it to you.”

Post-retirement, Loew said she wants to work, perhaps residentially, at tribal colleges, continuing to teach digital storytelling. As a former travel journalist, she said she loves the idea of visiting different communities and sharing what she has to offer.

Loew said she’s leaving the future of the Native and Indigenous community on campus in good hands. She said she has confidence in CNAIR’s current leadership and is optimistic about the impact its scholarship will have and the opportunities it will be able to create for students at NU.

Loew doesn’t see herself leaving NU behind entirely, though — as an emeritus faculty member, she said she hopes to maintain a relationship with the community she’s found here. 

Loew wouldn’t forget about her relationships in a place just because she doesn’t work there anymore, Biggs said. But still, she said it will be hard to lose such a beloved figure in NU’s community.

“Of course it will be a bittersweet moment, because Patty has such a warm and brilliant presence and has brought so much to people’s lives here,” Biggs said. “But I think the overwhelming feeling will be gratitude for what she has offered, what she has worked for and who she is to us.”

Loew said her career has enriched her life in many ways. As a broadcast journalist, she could meet with people and report on stories she might not ever have been exposed to otherwise. She said she’s honored to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a distinguished department at Medill, working alongside passionate faculty whose work she admired greatly.

However, she said she may have gained the most experience during her time teaching. Working with NU students, whom she’s built close bonds with, has been one of the highlights of her time here, she said.

“Every time I step into the classroom, I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught,” Loew said. “And what a blessing that is.”

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Twitter: @joshdperry

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