The Harvard University Native American Program, Stanford University’s Native American Studies Program, and Stanford’s Native American Cultural Center jointly hosted prominent Indigenous scholars at a panel discussion in celebration of their programs’ 50th anniversaries on Thursday.
The event — titled “A Circle of Notable Native American Scholars” and co-sponsored by the American Academy for Arts and Sciences — drew nearly 700 virtual attendees. Its panel featured Philip J. Deloria, a history professor at Harvard; K. Tsianina Lomawaima, a professor in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University; Henrietta Mann, a professor emerita at University of Montana, Missoula and Montana State University, Bozeman; Robert Warrior, a professor at University of Kansas; and Greg Sarris, an endowed chair at Sonoma State University.
Before the panelists spoke, Anna Kate E. Cannon ’21, a co-president of Natives at Harvard College and a former Crimson Fifteen Minutes executive, provided a land acknowledgement for the space occupied by Harvard.
“Everyone at Harvard has benefited from the continued occupation of this land, and we must acknowledge our indebtedness to our Massachusett relatives,” she said.
The discussion centered on the importance of Indigenous studies and the experiences of Native Americans in higher education.
Mann, who is Cheyenne, acknowledged that teaching Indigenous history is “daunting,” given there are 574 federally recognized Indigenous nations, each with their own histories. Nevertheless, she said that it is a necessary pursuit.
“Harvard and Stanford have an obligation to teach about the nation or nations upon whose ancestral lands they are situated, and the nations located within each of their states, federally recognized or not,” Mann said.
Lomawaima said Indigenous scholars have often been “marginalized outsiders” in higher education but have also served as “hopeful transformers” of academic institutions. She emphasized the importance of developing programs like those at Harvard and Stanford.
“Indigenous studies play a critical role in public education,” Lomawaima said. “Our classes and interactions with students can serve as pathways for non-Native learners to encounter historical truths about the nation they call home.”
Warrior — a member of the Osage Nation who was denied tenure while he taught at Stanford in the 1990s — said his experience during the process revealed some of the challenges Indigenous scholars face in institutions of higher education.
“With the negative news about my tenure chase in the winter of 1999, I was suddenly the one having to deal with the institution telling me I didn't belong,” he said. “I'd done good work, the official notification from the dean told me, but what I did was too narrowly focused. American Indians, in other words, weren't a big enough concern to justify tenure at Stanford.”
During his time at Stanford, Warrior said he noticed many of the Native students he knew felt marginalized at higher education institutions, where they make up a fraction of the student body.
“Belonging was at the root of problems many Native students were facing, not just on that campus, but across the continent,” Warrior said. “As a mentor dedicated to helping Native students succeed, I looked for ways to reinforce the fact that we belonged.”
Native Americans and Native Hawaiians make up just 2 percent of Harvard’s Class of 2024.
Mann stressed the importance of creating enclaves within college campuses to support Native students. She praised the Native American Student Hall at the University of Montana and a similar space opening this fall at Montana State University as examples of such locales.
“Students need to have a place where they can gather, where they can create their own sense of community, where they can just be who they are, as our land's beloved children,” Mann said. “A place that gives them the feeling of being at home and that they belong.”
—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.
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