Yale News

Yale has bolstered its course offerings in Indigenous Studies over the last five years, including the offering of Cherokee classes, which began this year as Yale’s first accredited Indigenous language courses.

This fall, eight courses are being offered in Indigenous Studies, spanning six departments and with 101 students currently enrolled, according to data from Yale course demand statistics. By comparison, in the fall of 2018, Yale offered just two classes related to Indigenous Studies, according to coursetable.com.

“Over the last five years there have been an increasing number of courses offered that focus specifically on Indigenous knowledge, people, and culture,” Dean Matthew Makomenaw (Odawa Tribe), director of Yale’s Native American Cultural Center, wrote. “In addition, there are many courses that include Indigenous thought in the readings and projects.”

Five of the six professors teaching in Indigenous Studies this fall have been hired in the last two years, and two of them — Patrick Del Percio and Tarren Andrews (Confederated Salish/Kootenai Tribes) — are in their first year teaching at Yale.

“The [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] has recruited remarkable scholars and teachers of indigenous studies in recent years,” FAS Dean Tamar Gendler wrote to the News. “Their wide-ranging work reflects the diversity of native cultures and communities.” 

Gendler added that these faculty members are “enriching” the study of Indigenous cultures at Yale, working alongside long-serving faculty members. 

Del Percio teaches “Beginning Cherokee I,” which has six students currently enrolled in the course.

In past years, the Native American Cultural Center has offered extracurricular courses on Indigenous languages through the Yale Native American Language Program; yet, these courses have never counted as credit toward Yale College graduation or as a language requirement.

“We have many students at Yale who are Indigenous and should be able to take their language for credit in a class taught at Yale, just like most other students,” Mara Gutierrez ’25 (Diné/Navajo Nation) wrote to the News. “Additionally, Yale has researched Indigenous Peoples and their languages, so not having an Indigenous language for credit does not reflect the interests of Yale’s community. Previous Indigenous students have been working for years to have an Indigenous language taught at Yale, so I am very happy to finally see it come to fruition.”

In November, Yale’s Native American Culture Center celebrated its 10th anniversary since moving into its home on High Street, where it has provided a space and community for Yale’s Native and Indigenous students.

The NACC provides resources to support Indigenous studies, such as providing instruction in 13 different indigenous languages and having affiliate faculty members, such as Ned Blackhawk (Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone)  — who recently won the National Book Award for his book “The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History” — and Jay Gitlin, who has been teaching Indigenous history at Yale since 1985.

But, Makomenaw wrote, in addition to further expanding access to Indigenous Studies, he would like to see Yale include more “Indigenous thought” in other fields.

“There is no study that I am aware of that has looked at how many courses include Indigenous thought in their syllabus,” he wrote. “Indigenous knowledge, people, and culture traverse a variety of subjects to include business, science, technology, literature, environmental studies, to name a few. It would be great to know how many courses include Indigenous thought with the goal of increasing Indigenous representation in classes and readings.”

Henry Roe Cloud (Winnebago), a prominent educator and national advocate, was Yale’s first Native American graduate, in 1910, and the NACC recently hosted a conference in his name.

Ben Raab covers faculty and academics at Yale and writes about the Yale men's basketball team. Originally from New York City, Ben is a sophomore in Pierson college pursuing a double major in history and political science.