HISTORY OF AMERICAN INDIAN and INDIGENOUS STUDIES at MSU
American Indian and Indigenous Studies (AIIS) was established at MSU in Fall 2000, with the announcement of its founding director. Created as American Indian Studies, AIIS faculty voted in early 2016 to add the term Indigenous to the program’s name to reflect a growing commitment to the ways that American Indian issues in the Americas exist in relationship to global Indigenous ones. We believe that by including Indigenous in our program’s name, we recognize the way that the term ‘Indian’ exists in relationship to US and Canadian government-recognized status, while Indigenous opens up to include other Indigenous communities, including Métis, Xicano (Indigenous Mexican American), mestizo, and members of tribal communities that may not be federally-recognized. Of course, the term Indigenous also opens up the program for teaching, research, and community work with Indigenous communities outside the US and Canada.
The university’s commitment to Indigenous issues predates the formation of American Indian and Indigenous Studies with classes on American Indians being taught at MSU beginning in the 1960s. The Native American Institute (NAI), currently directed by archaeologist Dr. John Norder (Spirit Lake), was founded in 1981. NAI was initially directed by Dr. George Cornell (Sault Ste. Marie Chippewa) and provided training and technical assistance to tribes and other Indigenous organizations. During the 1980s, the institute was active in working to resolve Anishinaabe fishing rights. In recent years, NAI has focused on outreach efforts to promote tribal economic development and advocate for American Indians in higher education. Originally located in MSU’s Urban Affairs Program, in 2003 the Native American Institute moved into the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). Through this transition, the institute strengthened partnerships with MSU Extension and now jointly administers programs focused on tribal issues. NAI has also strengthened commitments to work on additional topics, such as Indigenous ecosystem management and environmental protection, sustainable community and economic development, Anishinaabeg cultural preservation, and tribal food systems.
Dr. Cornell was instrumental in helping create the American Indian Studies program, as well, with Dr. Patrick LeBeau (Cheyenne River Sioux and Turtle Mountain Chippewa) being appointed the founding director of AISP. Since 2000, others have served as director: including Susan Applegate Krause (Oklahoma Cherokee), LeAnne Silvey (Waganakising Odawa), Dylan Miner (Métis), Elizabeth LaPensée (Bay Mills Anishinaabe and Métis), and Kristin Arola (Lake Superior Chippewa). Both Dr. LeBeau and Dr. Krause have published academic articles on the efforts of MSU’s Native community to create American Indian and Indigenous Studies. Initially, AIIS offered an undergraduate specialization. However, beginning in Fall 2015, the program began offering an undergraduate Minor. As mentioned above, in early 2016 AISP faculty voted to change the program’s name to American Indian and Indigenous Studies (AIIS), which received university approval in summer 2016. In Fall 2017, AIIS secured its own course code and in Fall 2019 we began offering a Graduate Certificate.
In addition to NAI and AIIS, the Michigan State University College of Law offers one of the nation’s only certificates in American Indian and/or Indigenous law. Located within the College of Law, the Indigenous Law & Policy Center (ILPC) facilitates the MSU Law Indigenous Law Program. ILPC has two primary objectives: to train law students to work with and in Indian Country, and to provide services to Indian tribes, tribal courts, and other tribal organizations. The ILPC is directed by Wenona T. Singel (Waganakising Odawa).