During a three-day conference held at the University of Georgia this past weekend, Native American and indigenous scholars from around the world voted overwhelmingly to form what organizers say is the first-ever membership-based, interdisciplinary, scholarly association.
Registered attendees at the second annual meeting approved the formation of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association by a vote of 172-12, according to Dr. Jace Weaver, director of the Institute of Native American Studies at Georgia’s flagship public university.
“Because all of use who do Native American or indigenous studies have our disciplinary meeting that we have to go to, there might be three, four, half-a-dozen if we’re lucky, panels on indigenous issues,” says Weaver, a professor of religion and Native American studies. “But there’s no place where we can talk across interdisciplinary boundaries. That’s necessary if we’re going to move forward.”
The association was first conceived by Dr. Robert Warrior, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, who “started with a phone call” three years ago that set a conversation in motion. That conversation led to the formation of a steering committee that organized the first Indigenous Studies meeting last year in Oklahoma. Because Native American and indigenous scholars are spread out in fields such as religion, sociology and political science, just to name a few, Warrior says that it is up to those who focus on and have a stake in these issues to come together.
“This is the obsession of our field,” says Warrior, who last month was named director of the American Indian Studies Program and the Native American House at the University of Illinois. “It does come down to us and it also becomes this larger circle.”
The next step for the association is to elect a slate of officers who will be installed at the next meeting, which will be held at the University of Minnesota in May 2009.
For many of those in attendance at the conference, which featured roughly 88 concurrent sessions and participants from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the association is a welcome development and an idea whose time has come. Organizers say this year’s conference marks the second meeting of its kind and scope.
“It’s an historic moment for all of us,” says Dr. Jacki Rand, an associate professor of Native North American history at the University of Iowa. “I think it’s long overdue and it shows how much the academy has ignored Native American studies or American Indian studies.”
Dr. Robert Collins, an assistant professor of American Indian studies at San Francisco State University, says that the association will match a specific need with the breadth of research that exists and will grow in the field.
“The diversity of the scholarship almost requires an association like this,” says Collins, who is a member of the curatorial team for “Indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” a new exhibition from the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “It’s too broad for just American Indian studies and it needs a specificity that can’t be matched by indigenous studies. It’s about a lived experience.”
Membership in the organization is open to any individual — native and non-native —who works in Native American, American Indian or indigenous studies, including students. One undergraduate student from the University of New Mexico presented a paper at the conference and said the association is a way for those who do this work to come together and build the future leaders and educators in the field.
“What it really means is, as Native students, we can assert our identity,” says Jonathan Pino, 23, of T’siya Pueblo, N.M. “It’s really about asserting who we are and taking it to the next level. We’re redefining what it means to be Native scholars.”
For more information about the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, please contact Jace Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org
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