Powerhouse of Indigenous Studies

Instructor teaching a student some of the Mohawk Language.

Jodi Maracle (left), adjunct instructor in the Department of Transnational Studies, works with a student from her "Languages and Cultures of Native North America: Introduction to Mohawk Language" class.

Maintaining indigenous languages, studying the environmental health of indigenous lands and monitoring the well-being of indigenous peoples are three areas of inquiry that will be central to a new Department of Indigenous Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Made possible through a $3.174 million grant to the college from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the department will be launched over the next four years, and will focus on humanities-centered research, educational programs and community outreach aimed at addressing key issues central to indigenous life in the region, as identified by faculty, students, alumni and community stakeholders from the surrounding Haudenosaunee territories, on which the UB campus is located.

Groundbreaking work

The intended new department builds upon a 50-year tradition of indigenous scholarship at UB and represents a transformative new development in an ongoing story of perseverance among indigenous faculty, students and community members, a story that has valued and preserved the dedicated contributions of the founding members of UB’s Native American Studies program who worked diligently over the decades to maintain indigenous studies at UB.

“As a result of enduring and heartfelt efforts by our indigenous faculty and students, and with support from the university and the Mellon Foundation, UB is poised to return to its status as a powerhouse of indigenous studies,” says Despina Stratigakos, vice provost for inclusive excellence. “This tremendously exciting development positions the university at the center of broader trends that recognize the critical importance of indigenous knowledge to higher education.”

The department will continue the groundbreaking work of John Mohawk, a founder of UB’s Native American Studies program in 1972 and one of the foremost Haudenosaunee scholars of his generation, along with numerous other contributors.

“UB is committed to becoming much more accessible to indigenous students and scholars, and more supportive of the indigenous nations. With the Mellon Foundation's generous support, and with the collaboration of community partners, we can realize this vision.” - Robin Schulze, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

Embracing the Home-hub Concept

The new department will anchor an expansive Indigenous Research Center and will serve as a “home-hub” for broader indigenous inclusion, connecting it to both the university community and the wider communities of Western New York and Southern Ontario, Canada.

“The home-hub concept acknowledges indigenous studies as an academic discipline at UB, in its own right, as well as a necessary component to other areas of study,” says Theresa McCarthy (Six Nations, Onondaga), associate professor of transnational studies and associate dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to establishing the new department and research center, the Mellon Foundation grant will help UB to increase the number of faculty focused on indigenous research and scholarship, support indigenous language instruction and develop permanent curricula to help better engage indigenous populations at UB and beyond.

UB’s receipt of the Mellon grant and its plans for indigenous studies are aligned with the university’s strategic goals, which are focused on providing students with transformative, innovative and research-grounded educational experiences; promoting a university-wide culture of equity and inclusion; deepening the university’s engagement with the community; and achieving greater societal impact locally and globally.

Attainment of these goals, supported by the university’s historic $650 million Boldly Buffalo campaign, will advance UB’s ambition to become a Top 25 public research university.

Bert Gambini
January 2020