Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

In the Moment of “Something Else,” Native American Heritage Honors “Something Meaningful” in Indigenous Studies at the University of Kansas

This week’s blog post has been guest written by L.Marie Avila, an Undergraduate Engagement Librarian at KU Libraries, and Carrie Cornelius, the Acting Supervisory Librarian at Tommaney Library at Haskell Indian Nations University.

In 1991, Congress proclaimed the month of November as a time to acknowledge Native American Heritage (PL 101 343). In honor of Native American Heritage, we would like to draw attention and reverence to the Indigenous Nations Studies Program collection (Call Number: RG 17/71) found in the University Archives at Spencer Research Library. 

Kenneth Spencer Research Library holds the documents of the Indigenous Nations Studies Program, which signify the decades of effort by University of Kansas scholars to improve the opportunities for Indigenous students. This collection consists of a variety of communications: memos among academics and sovereign tribal nations; program development proposals; articles; and university news releases.

There, with the assistance and expertise of the staff, is a pathway to the access and discovery in research. Our research led to significant artifacts in the early discourse and vision in establishing the program dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, and records of the events and the scholarly accomplishments of native students and scholars in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Included in the artifacts is the historical partnership between the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University.

This is in dedication to Native peoples’ resiliency, and to impress to the next generations of learners, to acknowledge the historical and contemporary contributions of Native people, throughout all seasons.

To begin, we examine the current 2020 Indigenous Studies Program Brochure for Indigenous Methodology noting the flexibility, student choice, and opportunity to direct research to community improvement. All of which was the direct result of the communication and program review noted in the historical documents, each showing the passion and dedication of scholars pursuing excellence for KU’s Indigenous students. 

Photograph of the first page of the KU Indigenous Studies Program brochure, 2020
Photograph of the second page of the KU Indigenous Studies Program brochure, 2020
The KU Indigenous Studies Program brochure, 2020. Image courtesy of the Indigenous Studies Program. Click images to enlarge.

The 2020 Indigenous Studies Program illustrates the inclusion of Indigenous Methodologies, while partnering not only with Haskell Indian Nations University, but Indigenous communities of the world. Students focus their Indigenous studies and research not only in Indigenous content, but with purpose to problem-solve the unique needs of Indigenous communities. Skill-based programs and build-your-own courses allow for individualized design and show flexibility and individualized student choice. 

A step back gives the opportunity to gain insight to the process. This early artifact (below) looks at the promise and challenge in developing a program dedicated to Indian studies.

Photograph of a memorandum, 1972
A memorandum from Professor Murray L. Wax (Sociology) and Professor Rosalie Wax (Anthropology) regarding “American Indian programs: prospects and difficulties,” October 19, 1972. Call Number: RG 17/71. Click image to enlarge.

Illustrated in a meaningfully-written letter by a KU professor, the letter below captures the Indigeneity of Indian students and their ultimate regard to “make something meaningful” out of a college education and an Indian Center in the space. The document provides insight into the 1973 “Indian work” strategies that were systematically and proportionally selecting tribal students by their traditionality. Additional strategies included housing together, scheduling core courses together, and mentoring by tribal teachers. 

Photograph of a letter from Stuart Levine to professors Murray L. Wax and Rosalie Wax, March 12, 1973
Letter from Professor Stuart Levine (American Studies) to professors Murray L. Wax and Rosalie Wax, March 12, 1973. Call Number: RG 17/71. Click image to enlarge.

Moving into the end of the twentieth century is an in-depth proposal from KU’s Indigenous Nations Studies Task Force.

Cover of “A Proposal to Establish a New Master’s Degree Program in Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Kansas," March 6, 1997
Cover of “A Proposal to Establish a New Master’s Degree Program in Indigenous Nations Studies at the University of Kansas,” March 6, 1997. Call Number: RG 17/71. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the Indigenous Nations Studies Program brochure, 1999-2000
Indigenous Nations Studies Program brochure, 1999-2000. This artifact outlines the Indigenous Nations Studies pedagogy, course schedule, requirements, and Native and non-native faculty. Call Number: RG 17/71. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of a KU news release, November 17, 1999
KU news release, “Historian Recalls Terror of Osage Murders: U.S. History Books Need Native American Perspectives,” November 17, 1999. In this document, Donald L. Fixico, a KU professor of history and director of KU’s Indigenous Nations Studies Program, shares his perspective on the content of history books and Native American history. Call Number: RG 17/71. Click image to enlarge.
Photograph of the cover of Indigenous Nations Studies Journal, Spring 2000
The cover of the Indigenous Nations Studies Journal, an academic journal produced out of the KU Indigenous Nations Studies Program, Spring 2000. Call Number: RG 17/71. Click image to enlarge.

To conduct in-depth research in this subject area, and others, make an appointment to visit Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

For more information about the term “something else,” see the Indian Country Today article “‘Something else’ may make all the difference this election.”

L.Marie Avila, Urban Waganakasing Odawa
Undergraduate Engagement Librarian
University of Kansas

Carrie Cornelius, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Oneida
Acting Supervisory Librarian
Tommaney Library, Haskell Indian Nations University

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