About 20 students and faculty members gathered Wednesday at the Native American Cultural Center for an open forum on the possibility of a Native American studies program at Yale.
While the University offers some courses on Native American issues, anthropology research affiliate Michael Kral, who led discussion at the meeting, said students are not adequately informed of the options available to them. Kral said he hopes to raise awareness of such classes while promoting new programs.
The meeting included the first public announcement that the University will appoint a junior faculty member in Native American studies this fall.
Kral spoke of a colloquium series that will take place every other week this semester and will feature graduate and doctorate students whose work relates to Native American studies. The series could open a forum for undergraduates to join in discussing and brainstorming research projects related to Native American studies, Kral said.
“My metaphor for this meeting was going to be that we are planting seeds,” he said. “But we’re not planting seeds. We’re watching them grow because they’re already here. But we’re going to plant some more anyway.”
Beinecke Library archivist Kathleen Burns said she believes the University’s libraries have the resources to support extensive studies in Native American issues, but collections should be more accessible to the public, as many are uncatalogued or not written in English characters.
Burns said she has started a Native American alumni group that she hopes will bring support to creating a Native American studies program.
“One of the essential predictors of success is having strong alumni support,” she said.
Angela Pulley GRD ’07, chairwoman of the planning committee for April’s “Pathways: A Graduate Conference on American Indian Studies,” said she hopes other events will continue to raise awareness of Native American issues.
“It’s really important to not just have one big event, but to capitalize on the momentum of that event,” Pulley said.
Association of Native Americans, or ANA, member Melodie Zamora ’05 said the meeting represented a positive step in raising more awareness of issues faced by Native American undergraduates, including efforts to find a dean for the Native American Cultural Center.
“Because [Assistant Dean Rosalinda Garcia] is director of both the Latin American house and the Native American house, she takes on an overwhelming amount of duties, especially since the Latino community encompasses so many specific ethnic groups,” Zamora said in an e-mail. “Therefore, the Native Americans do not have someone that can fully concentrate on their needs and petitions to help them expand.”
Native American peer adviser Matthew Houk ’04, who said he is a member of the Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma, said Native American undergraduates were the only ethnic group who did not have an ethnic counselor paid for by the dean’s office. Houk said instead he is paid by the Native American Cultural Center, from which he estimates he receives about half the budget.
“If Yale College made the Native American peer counselor a full ethnic counselor, that would free up about $5,000 dollars that could be directed toward cultural events, speakers, etcetera,” Houk said.
Burns said examining Native American studies programs at other colleges may help the University improve its own academic offerings.
American Studies Professor Christian McMillen, who teaches a course on Native American law, said he wanted to invite Harvard professor Robert Williams to campus or lead a field trip to the university to see its Native American Program.
Shani Harmon ’06, who received Sudler funding for a project on ethnic images in advertising, said she will try to attend the colloquium series and would be interested in speaking with Native American issues experts about her project.
Pulley said students hoping to create a Native American studies program would benefit from keeping track of ANA activities.
“Take pictures at meetings,” she said at the open forum. “Take pictures at the Pathways Conference. What’s important is to make sure there’s a body of evidence to show how many people are interested in Native American studies at Yale and beyond.”