Colorado College recently approved a new thematic minor in Indigenous Studies. Students have expressed a strong desire for this minor, and the college has an active group of students, faculty, and staff with current and growing connections to First Nation communities in North America who helped bring the proposal to fruition.
“An Indigenous Studies thematic minor sends a message to everyone on campus, in our larger community, and throughout academe that we value and need Indigenous perspectives alongside a full picture of the land’s history to understand and accept our role as global citizens,” notes the proposal. “In creating, supporting, and growing this minor we can honor a deeply essential, shared history no matter how complex and significantly tragic, and we can ensure a long-lasting Indigenous presence in all we do.”
The minor also addresses the college’s mission and initiatives toward diversity and inclusion by supporting Indigenous presence and awareness on campus.
Colorado College has offered various courses over the decades that have related to the collective story of Indigenous traditions, narratives, experiences, and arts, but has not had a coherently designed program linking the different offerings. Although the creation of such a program has been a topic of discussion for years, it wasn’t until Spring 2015 that the effort gained traction. Among the reasons for the proposal’s success: the hiring of new faculty members who can help support and sustain the program.
Requirements for the multi-disciplinary thematic minor, which was approved in May, include three required core courses, including Introduction to Native American Studies, two electives, and an Indigenous Studies project or additional capstone course. The capstone project need not be time-intensive or exhaustive, but should be “deliberate, service-oriented, and in the scope of indigenous community-based learning,” according to the proposal.
“The Indigenous Studies thematic minor has been long in the making,” says Assistant Professor of English Natanya Ann Pulley, who is Diné (Navajo). “For me, this doesn’t just mean it’s been a topic of discussion or an idea for a program for a long time. But for many Indigenous people and for those committed to indigenous knowledge, our learning experiences are shaped by the very land we stand upon today.”
The new minor is more than a catch-all for courses containing indigenous content. Instead, it is an introduction to and support system for indigenous ways of knowing, learning, teaching, and living. The proposal notes that Indigenous Studies can disrupt Western mythologies of wilderness, discovery, and benevolent settlers, etc., in order to address social constraints Native Peoples face as contemporary beings with distinct cultures.
“The earliest people’s vibrant and diverse life upon this land is not just one course or chapter in a book — nor need it be one’s sole discipline. Instead, Indigenous theories of knowledge and lived experience inform all majors, areas of study, and all of our students. It both deepens and expands one’s major, as well as one’s understanding as a particular being in this particular area, in this particular time itself,” says Pulley.
Among those working with her on the proposal were Associate Professor of Anthropology Christina Leza, Assistant Professor of Race, Ethnicity and Migration Studies Dwanna Robertson, Associate Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Mathematics Mike Siddoway, and Professor of Music Victoria Levine, who brought a symposium celebrating Indigenous music and culture to CC last fall. Additionally, faculty from a number of disciplines including Southwest Studies, History, Anthropology, and Computer Science, as well as staff from the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College also contributed in developing the proposal.
Colorado College itself is situated on land that flourished for centuries amid the ebb and flow of First Nation Peoples before Europeans arrived. Ute, Apache, Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota tribes, among others, contributed significantly to the history of the region, with Native Peoples continuing to play a vibrant role in Colorado’s artistic, political, and social narratives.