By ZHAO PENG
Capital News Service
LANSING — Northern Michigan University will provide the state’s first university-level Native American studies major in beginning next fall, an action that may draw attention to a long-overlooked academic area that has been thriving in recent years, according to a professor at Central Michigan University.
“The education of Native American studies has been neglected far too long,” said Timothy D. Hall, the associate dean of the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences at Central. “It is always a good thing when new programs are developed to offer students the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge and understanding of Native American history and culture.”
Hall said Native American studies is thriving in Michigan. Most colleges and universities in the state offer at least some courses in the field, and the larger research universities all have positions dedicated to Native American history, culture and literature across a variety of departments.
Hall said the field is “robust” and generating extensive scholarly research each year.
“The emergence of excellent museums and archives sponsored by the tribes in the state and across the Great Lakes are also adding to the total fund of knowledge about Native American peoples, as well as providing invaluable Native perspectives,” he said.
At CMU, at least three departments in the Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences alone offer multiple courses in Native American history and culture, including the Ojibwe language, Hall said.
Northern Michigan University has been developing its Native American studies programs for decades. It approved a minor in the field in 1991 and established the Center for Native American Studies in 1996, said April Lindala, who directs the center.
Lindala said the new major will enhance existing relationships with tribal communities in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“The potential for increased communication between NMU students and regional tribes will happen through several avenues such as field trips to tribal communities,” said Lindala, adding that students can also participate in service learning projects with tribes and inter-tribal organizations.
Daniel Hurley, executive director of the President’s Council, State Universities of Michigan, said the new major will help raise awareness about Native American populations.
“It will help both our understanding of the history and current challenges and opportunities associated with advancing the objectives of Michigan’s Native American population,” Hurley said.
Mico Slattery, the director of Native American Studies at Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College said the Northern Michigan major can complement learning opportunities his college offers. Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College’s courses include studies of Native American law, history, environmental issues, languages, and arts and crafts, among other subjects.
“I believe that our offerings, at least on the academic level, are probably very close to what Northern Michigan University has done with their program,” Slattery said. “It seems to me that if Northern Michigan University is putting together a program in a four-year university, it’s probably going to be one of the strongest academically in the state.”
By ZHAO PENG