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No definitive timeline in place for establishing Indigenous Studies minor

The affinity space for Natives at Princeton, located in Green Hall. There are string lights, and a seating area surrounded by colorful art.
Despite being only one year old, Natives at Princeton has made their affinity space in Green Hall inviting to students of all Indigenous backgrounds. 
Angel Kuo / The Daily Princetonian

After years of advocacy, faculty and students involved with Native American and Indigenous student groups on campus say the timeline for an Indigenous Studies minor program remains uncertain. Although the University announced that it would establish an endowed professorship of Indigenous Studies in 2020, the position has yet to be filled. 

Sarah Rivett, a professor of English and American Studies who helped establish the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISIP) at the University, confirmed in an email to The Daily Princetonian that “the establishment of an Indigenous Studies minor is in process” with support from NAISIP, but deferred commentary on the chair position to the University. 

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University communications did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

“My sense, globally, is that [the Indigenous Studies minor] is something that everybody wants, and that the University is committed to building a course of study,” Elizabeth Ellis, a professor of History and an enrolled citizen of the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “I think the big question is the timeline.”

Ellis, who joined the University in 2022, has taught HIS 271: Native American History for the last two semesters. She said she believes her hire was part of a round of ongoing cluster hires, a method of recruiting faculty with similar research interests or departmental affiliations. Ellis added that the emerging nature of the field makes hiring more difficult.

“For so many of us in this field, you’re either the only Native person, or you’re the only person teaching in Native Studies, and that tends to be really difficult to sustain, both in terms of the course loads, but also in terms of being able to support student populations and not getting burned out,” Ellis said. 

Last week, Margaret Bruchac, the only tenured professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, retired. Bruchac had previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that Indigenous Studies at Penn ran “primarily on [her] own enthusiasm and willingness to overwork.”

In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Gustavo Blanco-Quiroga ’25, the co-president of Natives at Princeton (NAP) and a member of the Aymara Indigenous community of Bolivia, expressed a similar sentiment.

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“One of my purposes when I came to Princeton was to at least be able to promote Indigenous communities,” he said. “But when you are alone in this work, it’s very difficult to [do] all the work by yourself.”

Brandi Bushman GS, the president of Native Graduate Students of Princeton (NGSP), a group that began last year, and a member of the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians of California, also expressed concern with the hiring process for scholars in Indigenous Studies. 

She recalled an active job search in the spring of 2022 that brought in candidates to host “coffee talks” with NAP members. Bushman wrote letters in support of potential hires and said that “there was one candidate that [NAP] really wanted, but it didn’t pan out.” 

“We were largely kind of left in the dark [when that happened],” Bushman said, as Native and Indigenous student groups did not have a formal role on the search committee.

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“Natives at Princeton represents the largest Native collective on campus. In hiring someone who’s both in the field and ideally who’s Native, it would be great if they solicited our feedback, thoughts, and desires,” she added.

The lack of Indigenous Studies at the University may also be an academic shortcoming, some students have said. While many professors in other fields might jump at a chance to come to Princeton, Bushman noted, “It’s a really tough sell when you have places like the UCs, University of Arizona, University of New Mexico, places that both have a larger Native population and infrastructure already in place for that professor to just start doing work and [not] feel alone.”

Among the University’s peer institutions, Stanford, Dartmouth, and the University of Texas at Austin all offer undergraduate majors in Native American Studies.

“I think that if we really want to make Princeton a world class university like the world claims [it] to be, I think that we have to also include Indigenous knowledge in the classroom,” said Blanco-Quiroga.

Elisabeth Stewart is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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