Campus News

UB receives $3 million Mellon grant in support of indigenous studies

American studies instructor Jodi Maracle working with a Native language student.

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.


Published January 13, 2020

headshot of Theresa McCarthy.
“Our goal is to promote the infusion of indigenous content into the curriculum across the university, to provide leadership for community-engaged research and to advance specialized scholarship in the field of indigenous studies. ”
Theresa McCarthy, associate professor of transnational studies and associate dean for inclusive excellence
College of Arts and Sciences

The College of Arts and Sciences has received a $3.174 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of a new Department of Indigenous Studies.

To be launched over the next four years, the proposed Department of Indigenous Studies 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.

The Mellon Foundation grant recognizes the more than two years of conversations, workshops and meetings among UB’s indigenous faculty, students, staff, alumni and community members to uphold and expand their commitment to indigenous studies at UB. These discussions were central to UB’s grant proposal to the Mellon Foundation.

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

Topics and issues to be addressed by a new department will include the 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.

Building upon a 50-year tradition at UB

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.”

“We look forward to developing the department with the support of College of Arts and Sciences faculty and engaging the UB Faculty Senate as part of this process,” Schulze adds.

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.

“Our goal is to promote the infusion of indigenous content into the curriculum across the university, to provide leadership for community-engaged research and to advance specialized scholarship in the field of indigenous studies,” McCarthy says. “Indigenous knowledge maintains an inherent value while offering unique understandings for all areas of thought and inquiry valued within Western knowledge systems, including those in STEM fields.”

The department will build upon 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; Oren Lyons, a key architect of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Barry White, a beloved Seneca instructor and Native student recruiter scholar. Other contributors include Jolene Rickard, the prominent Tuscarora artist; Yvonne Dion Buffalo; Rick Hill; Scott Manning Stevens; Hilary Weaver, professor and associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in the School of Social Work; and many others.

“Native peoples from within and outside of UB have upheld their commitments to indigenous studies here because it is our responsibility as Haudenosaunee people to be accountable to our communities and to remain invested in supporting future generations of students and scholars who choose to come to UB,” McCarthy says.

In addition to establishing the new department and research center, the Mellon Foundation grant will help UB to:

  • Substantially increase the number of faculty focused on indigenous research and scholarship.
  • Provide more resources and infrastructure to meet the specific needs of indigenous inclusion.
  • Support indigenous language instruction and research, and build community partnerships in support of Haudenosaunee languages.
  • Establish ongoing community engagement in order to center Haudenosaunee values and protocols in informing the improvements necessary to build and sustain indigenous inclusion at UB.
  • Develop permanent curricula, including academic programming and campus-wide public programming, to build competency for better engaging indigenous peoples at UB and beyond.

Native American and indigenous studies departments have been represented in academic institutions for more than 50 years. In universities across the U.S. and Canada, indigenous studies departments and programs were initially formed in response to student demand and protest.

The legacy of indigenous studies at UB.

An emerging discipline

That history of research and scholarship has contributed to what has in recent years become an emerging and vibrant discipline nationwide that is fueled by many factors, such as the 2008 founding of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAIS), which has about 2,000 members; the establishment of indigenous studies departments, research centers and programs at U.S. universities; and other institutions that have added indigenous-focused courses and learning opportunities.

Despite that encouraging growth, estimates show Native American students receive less than one out of every 100 PhDs annually in the U.S. That is a shortfall that Schulze and UB faculty want to immediately address.

“By establishing a Department of Indigenous Studies, we can help address that gap and build pathways for increasing the number of indigenous scholars in the U.S.,” Schulze says.

An Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant is one of the most prestigious grants in the humanities awarded to colleges and universities. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seeks to strengthen, promote and defend the centrality of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse, fair and democratic societies.

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.


Kudos. This is long overdue work, as I witnessed when working with this 50-year-old American Indian Studies Program at ASU.

I hope the focus is regional but also collaborative with other indigenous nations since there is much work to do. Upcoming conference:

Debra Palka