campus news

Department of Indigenous Studies ready for new academic year

Group of Indigenous Studies faculty and staff.

Faculty and postdocs in the Department of Indigenous Studies gather for a photo in the departmental office in Clemens Hall. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published August 29, 2023

Mishuana Goeman.
“We are looking to establish the department as a tie-in with tribal communities. ”
Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca), chair
Department of Indigenous Studies

The new Department of Indigenous Studies is well underway with the appointment of a new chair and charter faculty members. The department officially launched last fall, welcoming its first students and offering a new curriculum and degree program.

The department’s formation is the latest step in an unfolding four-year plan that began in January 2020 when the College of Arts and Sciences received a $3.17 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support the university’s expanded commitment to Indigenous studies.

“Our Department of Indigenous Studies marks a bold new chapter for this field at UB,” says President Satish K. Tripathi. “It brings our work into direct conversation with the community. It serves as a model of how to realign social science and humanities expertise with 21st-century challenges. And it ensures that all students understand how issues of Indigeneity impact the quest for solutions.”

Indigenous studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that centers on the knowledge, priorities, aspirations and lived experiences of Indigenous peoples locally, nationally and internationally.

The new UB department galvanizes Indigenous studies as an embodied academic discipline that introduces content across the university curriculum while serving as a community-engaged hub for Indigenous-centered research and teaching.

Mishuana Goeman (Tonawanda Band of Seneca), the department’s new chair, is building upon the foundation started by Theresa McCarthy (Six Nations Onondaga, Beaver Clan), associate dean for inclusive excellence and director of Indigenous studies, who was principal investigator on the first two grants from the Mellon foundation.

“Thanks to Theresa’s efforts and support from CAS, the university received the key grants needed to establish the department and to develop and implement a number of important initiatives,” Goeman says.

Land-based learning is foundational to the department’s curriculum. Innovative environmental studies classes offer an introduction to practical and experiential land-based learning that covers environmental impacts, customs and traditions within Haudenosaunee territories and communities.

“We are looking to establish the department as a tie-in with tribal communities,” Goeman explains. “Currently, there are many jobs open at the Seneca Nation, but if you want to take those jobs on, it’s important to know the history of this place and understand Indigenous methodologies — and that’s where our department comes in. We will train students looking for more opportunities to work in Indigenous communities across all departments.”

One of the other main priorities made possible with support from the Mellon grants was to hire new faculty focused on Indigenous research and scholarship. In addition to Goeman and McCarthy, associate professor, charter faculty members include:

  • Robert Caldwell (Choctaw-Apache), assistant professor.
  • Jason Corwin (Seneca Nation, Deer Clan), clinical assistant professor.
  • Montgomery Hill (Tuscarora Nation), assistant professor.
  • Mia McKie (Tuscarora Nation, Turtle Clan), clinical assistant professor.
  • Meredith Alberta Palmer (Tuscarora Nation), assistant professor, dual appointment with the Department of Geography.
  • Shannon Seneca (Six Nations Mohawk), assistant professor.
  • Laura Terrance (Akwesasne Mohawk), assistant professor.
  • Marilyn Schindler (Seneca Nation, Snipe Clan), adjunct professor and an expert in Indigenous languages.
  • Kevin Lee (Chamorro), assistant professor, who will join the department in fall 2024.

In addition to the recent faculty appointments, the Department of Indigenous Studies is sponsoring two postdocs in 2023-24: Sara General, who brings a Haudenosaunee language expertise to the department, and C.J. Jackson (Navajo), who will be working on Indigenous queer poetics and helping the department organize Indigenous Pride Week.

The department is also poised to offer an unrivaled breadth of Indigenous language offerings, including Mohawk, Tuscarora and Seneca.

“The fact that we’re able to offer language classes is a huge step,” Goeman says. 

Building upon half-century of scholarship at UB

The department’s legacy programming began in 1972 when John Mohawk founded the Native American Studies Program at UB. Its programs have centered on Haudenosaunee knowledge as a lens for looking at Indigeneity in broader national and global contexts.

Through its innovative “home-hub” concept, the Department of Indigenous Studies creates social science- and humanities-centered learning and research opportunities, educational programs and outreach in service to Indigenous communities in ways that increase public understanding and inspire public education about the history, contributions, knowledge, traditions and contemporary realities of Indigenous people.

Key issues and topics of study include the preservation and maintenance of Indigenous languages; the environmental health of Indigenous lands, particularly in relation to fresh water; the well-being of Indigenous peoples and the end to health disparities; and the unique governmental and policy status of Indigenous nations in ways that uphold Indigenous sovereignty.

“We’re excited to be our own department and exercise leadership for those on the U.S. side of Haudenosaunee Territory,” Goeman says. “In fact, we will be initiating a scholarship for Haudenosaunee students to receive in-state tuition at the University at Buffalo. Providing education in territory recognizes the importance of where we are living and learning.”

UB is located on the traditional territories of the Onödowa'ga:' (Seneca Nation), one of the six member nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy — Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora — and is in close proximity to a majority of the federally recognized Indigenous nations in New York State and Canada.