April 02, 2013

USD's weak Native Studies program

COLUMN: Native studies is falsely advertised

By Jackie HendryWhenever I tell people I’m from northern Illinois, I tend to hear one of two questions: “What brought you to South Dakota?” or “Is that near the Quad Cities?”

As far as the Quad Cities are concerned, I have no idea. We Illinoisans tend to be more Chicago-central. But the reason I chose the University of South Dakota is simple: There was no better place to simultaneously pursue my interests in media and Native American studies.

Or so I thought.

Google “Native Studies” and there’s USD, second only to Wikipedia. After a few clicks around the page you see an advertisement of the university’s uniquely superior access to Native history and culture, the benefits of a background in the discipline to many career paths and a course catalog of interesting class titles. As a high school senior far removed from the everyday campus atmosphere, it made sense to me that USD was the place to be.

The reality was much more disappointing. Ours is a department with one professor, a handful of students and little credibility in the eyes of the administration. Friends of mine have had to defend the purpose of a major in Native Studies in the first place even to faculty members.

The Oral History Center—housed in the musty and otherwise deserted basement of Dakota Hall—is apparently facing an even worse fate: closure as a separate growing entity and transferral to the campus library’s special collections, which I’ve heard described as “where things go to die.” The Lakota Language Education Action Program (LLEAP) is also rumored to be dissolving because of lack of enrollment.

This isn’t what I signed up for.
Comment:  I wonder if the situation is any different at the University of North Dakota, home of the "Fighting Sioux." After all they love their Indians there too. As long as they remain safe and stereotypical, that is.

For more on Native education, see Oregon Professor Shoves Native Student and Farmer Leads Idle No More Teach-In.

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