Traditional wild-ricing, language tables and community leaders in culture revitalization are only some of the techniques employed by American Indian studies instructors.
The instructors’ goal is to give students a more community-based education.
The American Indian studies program has undergone changes this fall that will give students more freedom in choosing their courses, academic adviser Paula Walsh said.
The department of American Indian studies is one of the oldest programs of its kind and allows students to specialize in a language, usually Ojibwe or Dakota.
“What we tried doing with both of our tracks in the major is enable students to pursue courses that are tailored to their own needs and interests,” assistant professor of American Indian studies David Martinez said.
Students pursuing a degree in American Indian studies can now choose general culture and history studies, or choose to study a language more intensively.
American Indian studies senior Mathias Green said he was interested in American Indian studies because of his neo-pagan religious beliefs.
He said American Indian religions are “not the same thing, but similar enough in some ways.”
Green said he likes the intimacy of the program. The instructors, he said, teach based on the culture and personal experience, rather than theory from a book.
One thing that sets the program apart from other areas of study, Martinez said, is that the program promotes the revitalization of the Ojibwe and Dakota languages.
“We provide an education that is based on American Indian values and beliefs,” he said.
One example of these values and beliefs is emphasizing a community connection through kinship, Martinez said.
Students in the Ojibwe language program share cultural experiences, said Dennis Jones, Ojibwe language and culture instructor.
Students in the program can partake in four language retreats throughout the year, allowing them to be completely immersed in the language and the culture for a weekend, he said.
“In my second-year Ojibwe class, I teach a unit on cultural activities; one of them is wild-ricing,” he said. “We go and process the rice the way it was traditionally done.”
First-year American Indian studies and social work student Marisa Carr said she chose the University for American Indian studies because of the Ojibwe language program.
“I’m really looking forward to becoming a better Ojibwe speaker,” she said.
Carr said she participates in the weekly Ojibwe language tables, where students and community members practice conversation skills and eat together.
Carr, who was raised as an “urban Indian,” but with some traditional aspects, said the program is accessible.
Another on-campus resource for students is the Circle of Indigenous Nations, Walsh said.
“It’s a great support system,” she said.
Circle of Indigenous Nations provides students with academic as well as social support and is an off-shoot of the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence.