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Indigenous Learning


Native American and Indigenous Studies is an interdisciplinary program grounded in a partnership between students, faculty, staff and local communities, with a global Indigenous focus centered in local and regional contexts. We empower students to recognize, honor and value Indigenous ways of knowing, so that they can work in collaboration with Indigenous communities and all their relations.

The Native American and Indigenous Studies minor combines NAIS courses with courses carefully selected from a variety of Humanities, Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary programs, and works in collaboration with local Indigenous communities and institutions to create a space for Indigenous academic knowledge and inquiry. Students work with each other and with members of Indigenous communities to develop understandings and relationships that can complement a variety of majors.

NAIS strives for learning that transcends the boundaries and dynamics of the classroom. Here students are learning on the land at the Makah Reservation.
NAIS strives for learning that transcends the boundaries and dynamics of the classroom. Here students are learning on the land at the Makah Reservation.

Foundational Values

“I try not to be ‘objective’ about anything. I fear those who are unemotional, and I solicit emotional response whenever I can. I do not stand silently by. I stand with you against the disorder” (Jeanette Armstrong, Okanagan Syilx) (1).

The NAIS Program was deliberately designed by Indigenous and allied faculty, staff and students with attention to the following guiding concepts:

Collaborative learning with and from Indigenous peoples is central to NAIS. Here a student and alumni panel is discussing Sámi film, moderated by Professor Storfjell.
Collaborative learning with and from Indigenous peoples is central to NAIS. Here a student and alumni panel is discussing Sámi film, moderated by Professor Storfjell.

Relational responsibility: We are all situated within networks of relationships, and we recognize that each of these relationships brings responsibilities with it. We are responsible to the places, people and other living things with which we have relationships. (Shawn Wilson, Opaskwayak Cree)(2)

Scholarship as community building: To conduct effective and responsible Indigenous scholarship, we need to build and strengthen a sense of community, not just with other Indigenous scholars, but also with Indigenous communities. And we need to remember our accountability to them. (Wilson)(3)

Dåajmijes vuekie: A South Sámi term that describes our understanding of the aesthetic, the practical and the ethical as connected. The beautiful object is useful and is made in an ethical way. The ethically made object is useful and beautiful. The useful object is made ethically and is beautiful. (Lena Kappfjell, Sámi)(4)

Dåajmijes voete: A related South Sámi term for our understanding that this is the way that we ought to behave—aesthetically, practically and ethically—and for our recognition that the only way we can do this is from a thoroughly informed and trained position. Behaving in this way is an obligation, and requires significant knowledge, so we should always listen and learn before we act. (Kappfjell)

Institutional racism arises when “a university’s standard pedagogical method is congruent with the culture of White students but not with the cultures of students of color” (James Josephe Scheurich and Michelle D. Young)(5)

Indigenous space: Creating an Indigenous space within the university means creating a space for Indigenous philosophies and intellectual traditions. It means opening the university to the possibility of other epistemes and ways of knowing. So Indigenous ways of knowing are a gift that can help the university better realize its mission. (Rauna Kuokkanen, Sámi)(6)

Standing Rock
Engagement with Indigenous communities is an important part of NAIS. Here students learn from Indigenous activists during the Learning From Standing Rock event in February 2017.

Learning Objectives

  1. Students will understand the importance of community and engage in practice that strengthens communities and the students’ relationships with them.
  2. Students will respectfully access and learn from Indigenous epistemologies and intellectual traditions, while at the same time guarding against cultural appropriation.
  3. Students will demonstrate ways in which traditional Indigenous knowledges and values are being used to address contemporary challenges and concerns.
  4. Students will give back to the communities with which they work and will recognize the shared stakes that these communities have in that work.
  5. Students will articulate histories, processes and effects of the colonization of specific Indigenous peoples, as well as strategies of resistance and paths to resilience.
  6. Students will explain the interconnected nature of diversity, justice and sustainability.
  7. Students will see issues of race, gender and social difference as issues of power and equity and will develop strategies for systemic change that address racism, colonialism, sexism and other systems of social oppression.
  8. Students will engage the connection between Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice.
  9. Students will integrate approaches from multiple academic disciplines and Indigenous knowledge traditions in their studies of larger systems, histories and communities.
  10. Students will achieve introductory fluency in Southern Lushootseed or another Indigenous language, and will appreciate the relationship between language, culture and ways of knowing.
  11. Students will explore the ways in which their vocations are shaped by relationships, responsibilities and reciprocity.
  12. Students will learn to live beautifully, which means living harmoniously and ethically, engaging in work that is useful, and in inquiry that draws on the spiritual, intellectual, physical and social realms.
  13. Students will demonstrate familiarity with and appreciation for local and regional Indigenous perspectives, traditions and ways of being.
  14. Students will address their own relationships to place in ways informed by their understandings of Indigenous relationship to place.
  15. Students will engage in land-based learning and reflect upon the lessons they have learned.
  16. Students will develop a complex, multilayered understanding of the land through a combination of hands-on and classroom-based learning.
  17. Students will apply their learning to active measures to care for the earth in collaboration with Indigenous communities.

(1) Armstrong, Jeanette. “Sharing One Skin.” In In Zoltán Grossman and Alan Parker, eds. Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Nations Face the Climate Crisis. Corvallis: Oregon State Univ. Press, 2012. 37-40: 40.

(2) Wilson, Shawn. Research Is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods. Halifax: Fernwood, 2008. 80-96.

(3) Wilson: 86

(4) Kappfjell, Lena. “Tradition, Value, Habit.” Presentation given at University of Tromsø (Norway) 1 March 2012.

(5) Scheurich, James Joseph and Michelle D. Young. “White Racism among White Faculty: From Critical Understanding to Antiracist Activism.” In William A. Smith, Philip G. Altbach and Kofi Lomote, eds. The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education: Continuing Challenges for the Twenty-First Century. Albany: SUNY Press, 2002. 225.

(6) Kuokkanen, Rauna. Reshaping the University: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes, and the Logic of the Gift. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007. 49; 128-155.