Native American studies program continues to grow after 40 yrs.
By Emily Brigstocke And Jasmine Sachar, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Thursday, September 27, 2012
In 1972, then-College President John Kemeny established Dartmouth’s Native American studies program, the only one of its kind in the Ivy League. This year, the department, which currently has nine faculty members and offers over 25 classes, will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a Native American Studies Symposium on Friday.
Although the program has made significant progress since its inception, when one half-time professor was hired and two classes were offered, parts of the program can still be improved, according to former department chair and history professor Colin Calloway.
“It’s an occasion to pause, look back and think, ‘OK, that’s how far we’ve come,’ and see the opportunities for future growth and future development,” he said.
Department chair Bruce Duthu ’80 is currently working to establish an off-campus program for Native American studies that would work with Pueblo communities, which Calloway said would add a “new dimension” to the academic field.
Over 10 years ago, Calloway proposed an addition to the Sherman House, home to the Native American studies program. While the project was approved, it was never executed due to economic concerns, he said.
The department has also begun a search process for a Native American art professor.
“It’s a gap in our curriculum, especially since we have such a relationship with the Hood Museum, which has such a great collection of Native American art,” Calloway said. “It’s a shame to not have a faculty member who can take advantage of those kinds of things.”
Michael Hanitchak ’73, one of the first students to take Native American studies classes at the College, said that the program was initially controversial because some critics did not consider Native American studies to be a legitimate academic discipline.
“There is a certain amount of remembering how difficult it was to be involved during a time when it was controversial and a certain amount of satisfaction that it has been very successful,” Hanitchak said.
Yale University history and American studies professor Ned Blackhawk, who will speak at the symposium, said that many scholars regard the College’s program as the best undergraduate Native American studies department in the nation.
“Dartmouth’s program is really one of the jewels in the crown of the Ivy League,” Blackhawk said. “The program is very well-known — visiting professors, museum, lots of faculty members, far more Native American studies faculty members. These all contribute to the flourishing community.”
When Calloway became department chair in 1997, only two of the program’s faculty members were Native American, Calloway said. Now, seven out of the nine professors identify themselves as Native American.
Monica Stretten ’15, a member of the Chickahominy tribe and a Native American studies and Romance languages double major, said she came to Dartmouth specifically for its Native American studies department and community.
“I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to study these things because it exposes me to new ideas, and it also reaffirms what I’ve been feeling,” Stretten said. “It’s sad that sometimes people don’t take Native Americans studies very seriously. It’s very important in terms of social context, and you can apply it to whatever field you want.”
Adria Brown ’15, a member of the Chickasaw tribe, said she appreciates the Native American studies major for its interdisciplinary nature. When the program was founded to rededicate the College to its mission of educating Native students, opportunities opened for Native American teenagers thinking about pursuing college educations.
“Dartmouth has been wonderful at recruiting Native American students from across the nation, giving them the opportunity to experience an Ivy League education,” Brown said.
Native American students also feel the need to be recognized in contemporary society because they have had few opportunities to express themselves and their opinions in the past, according to Stretten.
“The first thing you think of when you think of Natives is Indians from the 1800s with headdresses,” Stretten said. “You don’t think about someone like me who is in your classroom or your friend. You don’t think of them in a modern context, as doctors, lawyers or politicians.”
Ignoring Native American history, philosophy and cultural experiences creates a one-dimensional view of American history, Calloway said.
“Native American studies is an area that allows people glimpses into a deep and incredibly varied human experience on this continent,” he said. “I think having [this] department opens the opportunity for American education.”