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UMN creates new position to advise on American Indian affairs and tribal relations

The senior adviser to the president for Indian affairs will serve in President Joan Gabel’s cabinet.
Image by Motasem Kadadah

The University of Minnesota is creating a new position to advise President Joan Gabel on American Indian affairs policy and strengthen the University’s relationship with the tribal nations of Minnesota.

In a March 1 interview with the Minnesota Daily, Gabel said advocacy from students, faculty and staff and the need for more focused leadership led to creating this position. The senior adviser will serve in Gabel’s cabinet and develop strategies for increasing retention rates for American Indian students, faculty and staff and strengthening the University’s commitment to the tribal nations in their role as a land-grant institution.

Applications for the position, which the Board of Regents announced at the February meeting, are open, with the goal of filling the position within the next several months.

“I want to create a team of people that go to bed at night and wake up in the morning thinking about this. It deserves that level of attention, and I can’t do that by myself,” Gabel said. “I am investing in this, even in our constrained financial resource times, because I think it’s that important.”

A large part of the senior adviser’s responsibilities will be coordinating with Minnesota’s tribal nations and ensuring that policy decisions acknowledge the University’s status and history as a land-grant institution. A federal government grant helped build the University on Dakota tribal lands ceded due to U.S. violence against the Dakota tribe and given to universities.

“This person, we think, will help the president sort of shift the relationship on behalf of the whole University towards native communities and advise on specific actions,” said Dr. Kat Hayes, a University professor in the anthropology and American Indian studies departments and chair of the search committee for the position.

Student advocates have requested that each campus at the University operate an American Indian advisory board, as dictated within board policy. Currently, Morris is the only campus with an active advisory board.

“The Twin Cities campus has not had an active board,” Hayes said. “It is supposed to be something that the campus does at the request of students, and students have been requesting it. And so far, it has not happened.”

Since January, the University has been working with the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council (MIAC) to create a historical report that analyzes the University’s relationship with the tribal nations. Findings from the report may be used to identify areas that the new senior adviser will work on, said Tadd Johnson, senior director of American Indian Tribal Nations Relations at the University.

Johnson’s position focuses on facilitating communication between the tribal nations in Minnesota and the University, whereas the new position will advise Gabel on possible actions and changes to University policy regarding American Indian affairs. The two positions will work closely together.

The search committee is looking for candidates with national experience to fill the position, Johnson said. To attract these candidates, the University is advertising the position at large organizations like MIAC and the National Congress of American Indians.

“It’s not an uncomplicated thing to understand both tribal sovereignty but also the workings of a large state university system and how they articulate in terms of creating equitable relations,” Hayes said.

Positions like the new senior adviser to the president for Indian affairs are relatively uncommon at universities around the country, Johnson said, though Arizona State University has a comparable role.

After reviewing the applications for the position, the search committee will make several recommendations to Gabel, who will ultimately select a candidate.

“Putting somebody directly in the president’s office will create visibility, and the president wants somebody whose name everyone will recognize, not just in Minnesota but nationwide,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping that this will make a large national impression when a person gets hired.”

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