Native American Studies Flourish; New Institute Launches
November 05, 2009
For a new program, the Institute for New England Native American Studies (INENAS) has outsized ambitions: Nothing less than a new model of collaboration between the university, tribal communities, and state and federal agencies.
While UMass Boston is not the only university in New England which offers courses and conducts research in Native American studies, INENAS, launched this past spring, is unique in the region. Designed to be a hub for collaboration across university borders, INENAS will work not only to promote the academic study of Native American history and culture, but also as a center for community education, a means of recruiting Native American students, and a meeting ground where tribes can connect with university resources and advocate for their own research agendas.
Founded with help from a state-matched grant from the Kellogg Foundation, INENAS is the fruit of several years of planning and research, conducted in collaboration with nine New England tribal communities.
Jim Peters, executive director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs and a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, hopes INENAS will help spark new discussion of what Native American studies means to the university.
“We need more than just ‘native studies,’” Peters says. “We need to think about what native studies is. Is it studying Indians, or Indians studying?”
Clearly, the answer is “both.” As a center whose primary mission is to serve New England’s Native American communities, INENAS will take its direction from the priorities of the tribes, said Provost Winston Langley.
“The direction of the research agenda has to come from the concerns of the Native American communities,” said Langley, “and the issues to be emphasized must emerge from the direct and voiced concerns of those communities.”
It’s a vision INENAS’s new interim director, Cedric Woods, is committed to.
“I see the Institute as a valuable clearinghouse of information, both inside and outside the university,” said Woods, who is a member of the Lumbee tribe from North Carolina. Woods hopes that working closely with local tribes will also help the UMass Boston attract more Native American students, staff and faculty.
“My goal is to have this as the place where local tribes want to send their students,” said Woods.
This June, INENAS hosted its first major event on campus, a workshop for tribal leaders from across the country on how to navigate the often-confusing bureaucracy involved with obtaining federal grant money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Earl Evans, a tribal leader of the Haliwa-Saponi in North Carolina who presented at the workshop, doesn’t mince words on the topic of state-tribe relations. “It took the U.S. 200 years to figure out how to consult with tribes instead of dictating to them what to do,” he says wryly. So far, he says, he’s glad to see INENAS bucking that centuries-old trend.
“They’re doing things tribes can use, based on what our day-to-day needs are,” said Evans. “I think that’s the way to go. That’s what no one else is doing.”
November is National American Indian Heritage Month, and UMass Boston has much to celebrate. Besides Woods, two new Native American PhDs have joined the faculty this year: Associate Professor of History Josh Reid of the Snohomish; and Environmental, Earth and Ocean Sciences Department chair Robyn Hannigan of the Narragansett.
“The timing of this is very fortuitous,” says Woods. “2009 has been a good year for UMass Boston with regard to expanding the presence and visibility of native faculty and staff on campus, and increasing their ability to engage the broader native population, both in Massachusetts and the region.”
Each November, the university hosts a symposium to promote awareness of Native American issues. This year’s symposium, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on November 10 on the 11th floor of Healey Library, will feature a panel on environmental justice. Speakers will include environmental anthropologist Darren Ranco, a Penobscot Indian and associate professor at the University of Maine, and Ellen Lutz, director of Cultural Survival. INENAS is among the event’s sponsors.
Anthropology professor Amy Den Ouden, who was involved in the creation of INENAS and has been co-organizer of the university’s annual Native American studies symposium for several years, says the heightened attention to Native American studies on campus bodes well for her students. Den Ouden’s introductory courses in Native American studies are popular and often overenrolled, she says, and she hopes that INENAS’s work on campus will open up new opportunities for students to work directly with tribes on research and service internships.
“Native American studies has just exploded in the past 15 years,” she says. “We now have an opportunity to link up our academic programs with what the Institute is doing.”
From his perspective as a tribal leader, Evans sees promise for a new kind of relationship between tribes and state governments in INENAS’s collaborative model.
“It’s going to be a win-win for Massachusetts and UMass Boston,” says Evans.
“Tribes and their states don’t always have the best relationships. I think this is going to lay a foundation for working relationships between tribes and the state in all kinds of situations.”