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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies Program makes numerous changes after $2.5M grant

The program is steadily advancing its operations with the new funds
Ana Pietrewicz / Daily Collegian

In January 2020, the Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies Program at the University of Massachusetts was awarded with a $2.5M grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. Titled, “Gathering at the Crossroads: Building Native American and Indigenous Studies at the Five College Consortium,”the grant is to be distributed over four years. As they reach their halfway point, the faculty and staff behind the program have rapidly made progress towards the implementation of these funds.

One of the biggest uses of the grant is the hiring of two departmental fellows, which the program could not do before. Christen Mucher, associate professor of American studies at Smith College, is the current faculty convener of the grant. She explained, “[The] two fellows, Deborah and Rachel, are helping expand curriculum, so [they are] helping us keep track of old classes that we’ve already taught, get more attention to them, and then also planning new classes.”

The fellows will also assist with “planning smaller curricula modules that other instructors could use in their classes, whether or not they’re part of the Native [American Studies] program, or the Native [American] community,” Mucher added.

Due to COVID-19, “It’s been really hard for Indigenous students in the valley to stay connected with each other on their own campuses [in general], but it’s [even more] difficult across the Five Colleges [as a whole],” Mucher explained. To tackle this, the fellows will additionally be working on identifying what students need and reaching out to them so they feel supported and connected.

The grant is also able to sponsor the hiring of three new faculty members who will significantly expand the courses offered through the program and assist with student advising.

The three new hires are expected to start next fall. One of them is an Indigenous poet who will be joining the UMass English department, another is in the Native American history department at Mount Holyoke and the last position is at Smith College working in environmental studies and policy.

While these were the major changes made in the last two years, the grant is also funding numerous smaller projects as well, like bringing Indigenous artists and elders to the Pioneer Valley for a weekend or semester-long stay.

The funds are also being used to award mini grants to various members of the Native American and Indigenous Studies program. So far, around 20 mini grants have been awarded for different projects like Hawaiian language, Mele and Oli learning sessions and exhibitions from Indigenous composers and curators.

As for a long-term goal, Mucher wants to work on creating a Center for Indigenous Studies that is dedicated to Indigenous faculty, staff and students.

“[The idea is that we can] have a centralized location and the idea of a location is important in terms of Indigenous history because of questions of dispossession,” she said.

She wants it to be there as “an affinity space,” but also as a space where they can coordinate all the certificate students and the curriculum. She hopes for it to be a place for the team to work on sponsor talks and scholarships as well.

Additionally, the Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies program has been hosting an annual symposium every year since 2013. The grant has allowed the program to make this into a larger event.

“We have Indigenous students at all of our campuses now, the problem has been getting them the adequate support in all kinds of ways that they need,” Mucher said.  “[The grant] is allowing us to spread the energy that the group already has, and is [helping us] make new collaborations [and support the students].”

Kiara Vigil, associate professor of American studies at Smith College, was the first convener of the grant and one of the staff members who applied for it two years ago. “[Lisa Brooks and I], along with other faculty at the different schools, worked together with Five Colleges Inc. to put a proposal together for the Mellon Foundation,” Vigil explained.

“We knew that a major aim of the grant was to increase the curricular offerings and pathways through NAIS for students across the five campuses, so we wanted to fund faculty doing work that would help to expand our current NAIS program courses,” she continued.

“We also wanted to support projects that were collaborative and connected people across campuses, which would not only benefit students but the wider community [as well],” Vigil added.

Laura Furlan, associate professor and director of American studies in the UMass English department, is also a part of the faculty for FCNAIS. “One of the most exciting things about the Mellon grant is that it has enabled us to both think about the certificate program together as well as to encourage non-Native Studies faculty on these campuses to think about how to incorporate Indigenous content and methodologies into their courses,” she said.

“There are definitely more ways that the grant could help here at UMass, including to help revise our NAIS program and revive our introduction to Native American and Indigenous studies course, which has not been taught for several years. More funding could help us build our vision of a NAIS Research Collaborative on campus, to support our spring speaker series and tribal-historian-in-residence program [and] to host Native writers on campus,” Furlan added.

Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mahidhar_sl.

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