The Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA) kicked off its campaign for an official Native American and Indigenous Studies department (NAIS) with a panel held Feb. 6 entitled
“Decolonizing Education Through Native American and Indigenous Studies.”
“You can’t start a department from scratch, so this panel brings together experiences of
people who are running these departments already, or are involved in them,” said ISA member
and panel co-organizer Vicki Wong SC ’14. “And of course all of the panelists personally
identify as Native American, which brings in an accountability, as you can’t have a department
and have it run by anyone. It has to be run by people who have grounded theoretical and lived
Panelists included Michelle Erai and Mishuana
Goeman, gender studies professors at University of California, Los Angeles; Traci Voyles, a gender studies professor at Loyola Marymount University; and Nikishna Polequaptewa, the director of the American Indian Resource Program at the University of California, Irvine. Erai co-founded Incite!: Women of Color Against Violence, which was part of the Core I curriculum for
Scripps College first-years.
The panel began by focusing on each of the panelist’s experiences as members of
indigenous communities and on their university’s approach to NAIS departments, as well as the
importance of decolonizing Western thought. The panelists also addressed issues such as the lackluster effort by universities to recruit indigenous students, despite a large surrounding native
ISA president Mariah Tso SC ’14 said that the aim of the NAIS department would be “deconstructing settler, colonial structures, especially including indigenous critiques of those
structures, which have historically been rendered invisible.”
For the ISA, it is important for the department to support tenured professors as well as provide a physical
place on campus to support NAIS majors or minors.
To ISA member and panel co-organizer Emily Areta SC ’14, obtaining a NAIS
department is more than just a putting a name on a piece of paper.
not just fighting for a department, or some professors, but fighting for knowledge and access for
our communities,” she said. “It is, and has to be, a community effort, or else it’s not going to be successful.”
For Tso, the campaign and potential department will also help to raise awareness about
problems in the Native American and indigenous communities and attempt to solve these
“If education or the university functions as a generator of knowledge, and a
lot of times that knowledge is used to fund research, which is then used to drive policies that
make change in communities, how can you come up with solutions that are actually going to
help your community if you don’t have indigenous methodologies or perspectives that are
culturally relevant?” Tso said. “So I think when you don’t have a Native American or indigenous studies
department, then are you really going to be supplied with the tools that you need to make the
changes that need to happen?”
ISA was founded in November of 2012 when students from the 5Cs decided to address the lack of
resources available for indigenous students. The principal goal of the group is
to inspire conversation about indigenous issues, both historical and contemporary,
which the group achieves by engaging with local tribal communities, students, and faculty and staff members.
The next event that ISA will host as part of the NAIS campaign is “Quantum Leap: Blood and Identity in Indian Country,” which will address the factors of
identity formation and the role of science and eugenics in native identity. ISA also plans to
host bi-weekly discussions to cover topics that would typically be covered in an Introduction to Native American Studies course.