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Northwestern students seek creation of Native American studies program
Condensed by Native Village

Last month, students from the Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance at Northwestern University called on school officials to recognize the violent history of John Evans, one of NU's primary founders.

Students petitioned officials to “formally recognize its founder’s responsibility” for the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre of nearly 150 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho natives. Many of those victims were women and children.

The group also calls for the creation of a Native American studies program, a Cheyenne and Arapaho scholarship fund and a memorial for massacre victims.

NAISA co-president Adam Mendel said they first introduced the petition to the NU community during a November forum marking Sand Creek’s 148th anniversary. NAISA posted the petition to Facebook after the forum.

The group hopes for an an official statement by NU President Morton Schapiro. They also called upon Northwestern to form a commission that reaches out to the Native community and to appoint a Multicultural Student Affairs advisor to support Native American students.

Mendel said Northwestern should recognize Evans’ participation in the massacre as part of the school's history. Establishing a Native American academic could help counteract a painful past.

“A lot of times with historical events people tend to try to put them in the past and say it’s not important,” the Weinberg senior said. “But with Sand Creek, the University is directly tied to that event.”

Even though NAISA only recently began actively canvassing the student body, the group has already approached University administrators with their requests.

Burgwell Howard, assistant vice president for student engagement, supports resources for students of Native American descent. However, forming a new academic department is challenging.

“Starting a new department is not a small undertaking,” he said. “You really need not only a critical mass of students to take the courses, but you also need scholars to teach the courses.”

Mendel said NU professors who focus on Native American studies have failed to receive tenure.

Other cultural programs have faced similar challenges. The Latina and Latino Studies Program has only been in place since 2008, and establishing the Asian American Studies Program 14 years ago was a contentious issue at the University.

“It took a hunger strike to get that one started,” Mendel said of the Asian American Studies Program.

Gary Fine, the John Evans Professor of Sociology at NU, supports NAISA’s petition for its historical significance. Fine said the University should recognize that NU is built on “blood money,” just like other universities now recognize their early ties to slavery.

“It’s an opportunity for the University,” he said. “It’s a case of remembering that great institutions have to confront their past.”

In addition to the petition, NAISA is seeking recognition from the Associated Student Government, and working to create a volunteer program at the American Indian Center of Chicago.

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