New Indigenous Studies Minor Planned for Mason

Posted: October 2, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Ryann Doyle

As a result of efforts from faculty members, the American Indian and Alaskan Native Student Association (AIANSA), as well as local native community members, a new interdisciplinary minor in indigenous studies is slated for 2008.

“This is the most recent development in a long interest at Mason,” says Margaret Yocom, associate professor of English. Now in her 31st year at Mason, she remembers when there was a Study of the Americas program. “There was a group of us who worked with Native Americans to increase the number of courses and to help them with events, but we didn’t have enough faculty at that point to begin a minor.”

However, that changed when Eric Anderson, associate professor of English, joined the Mason faculty in 2004 and brought his expertise in Native American literature.

In addition to Anderson’s expertise, Meg Nicholas, currently in the master’s program in folklore, is offering her support. As an undergraduate she was disappointed by how few events were offered on campus to celebrate Native Heritage Month in November, so she decided to get involved in the planning for the next year’s events. When an e-mail was sent out calling for students who might be interested in starting a new organization for native students, she answered, determined to revive the student group at Mason. Thus, AIANSA was formed.

“While we are a fairly small organization compared to others at Mason, I personally am always amazed by what our small organization is able to accomplish every November,” says Nicholas. “Teamwork is an important aspect of native culture in general, and it is my belief that this is one of the biggest reasons we have been so successful these past five years. We’re small in number, but we’ve got heart and drive enough to see us through.”

When Anderson came to Mason, he met with AIANSA and saw that they were spirited and interested in growing.

“We talked early on about how there are a lot of native tribes in the area, urban Indians in D.C., and lot of history close by,” explains Anderson. “The self-identified student population here is still pretty small, about 100 native students out of 30,000, but we had a really strong sense that if we built the program, a lot of native students will come.”

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), part of the Smithsonian Institution, has offered to provide internships to indigenous studies students that would entail giving tours at NMAI, learning to address different audiences and doing research and cultural interpretation.

“The university-wide Native American initiative out of the Provost’s Office is working to build a formal relationship with the NMAI that will allow us to have the internship program, do team teaching and open up a lot of opportunities for students,” says Yocom.

Since ‘indigenous’ means native, but not exclusively Native American, students in the minor could study natives from all over the world. This will offer a sound global perspective, say Anderson and Yocom, and they hope to bring in native experts from all over the world to speak with students.

Dakota Schreiner, current president of AIANSA, is excited about the development of the new minor.

“It will be the first in the D.C. metropolitan area if I’m not mistaken, which is historic,” says Schreiner. “Not only will it provide an outlet for Native American literature, issues and culture, but it will be a great commodity for the university as well. We claim to celebrate diversity, and what better way to do that than to finally have a minor that focuses on the minority of all minorities of the entire United States.”

For more information about the indigenous studies minor, contact Eric Anderson.

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