As the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion hosts events to celebrate Native American Heritage Month, some are calling for the university to better represent Indigenous people year-round.
Julie Zimmerman, professor of anthropology and chair of the anthropology department, said while the university offers a Native American Studies minor, the minor’s interdisciplinary classes are dwindling.
“We do have this Native American Studies minor. It’s an interdisciplinary minor and there’s a lot of anthropology in there, both cultural anthropology and archaeology. Dr. McClinton just retired, so we’ve lost a lot of our history classes, which is very unfortunate … We lost our political science classes with the loss of a faculty member from that department years back,” Zimmerman said. “So at this point, our minor is limping along to maintain its interdisciplinarity.”
Zimmerman said the vacancies should be filled by hiring Native American faculty members.
“We need Native American faculty. Can you imagine Women’s Studies without any women faculty? Can you imagine Black Studies without any African American faculty? But this is typical for Native American Studies,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said the university can further its diversity initiatives by bringing in more Native American students.
“I know what Native American students want to come here. They want to see Native American faculty, but they also want to see scholarships. So give them scholarships, and that will bring them,” Zimmerman said.
Lindy Wagner, director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, said the CSDI’s upcoming Inclusive Conversation will be focused on issues that Indigenous people continue to face.
“The one that’s happening on Nov. 13 is actually about missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as historical trauma that is part of being Indigneous and also being [a] woman. I’m actually looking forward to that one, because I think that’s a topic that not a lot of people are talking about and I think it’s really important that we raise awareness for murdered and missing Indigenous women, and historical trauma of Indigenous people,” Wagner said.
“The result has been a jurisdictional tangle that often makes prosecuting crimes committed in Indian Country prohibitively difficult. In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department did not prosecute 65 percent of rape cases reported on reservations. According to department records, one in three Native American women are raped during their lifetimes—two-and-a-half times the likelihood for an average American woman—and in 86 percent of these cases, the assailant is non-Indian,” the article states.
Wagner said the CSDI is also hosting events throughout November to celebrate Native American culture, such as a collaboration with Artist-in-Residence Karen Ann Hoffman, and Native storytelling.
“The idea is that it’s a person who identifies and is also an artist of the culture … and then the storytelling, to me, is very art-ish, because the art of storytelling is truly cultural and truly an aspect that is a learned skill,” Wagner said.
Professor Emerita of History and Native American Studies Rowena McClinton said while Illinois does not currently have any federally or state-recognized tribes, many tribes lived in Illinois prior to the 1840s before being moved to Oklahoma.
“The principal group that has been studied the most is the Illinois Confederacy, and the Illinois Confederacy [and] … their tribal names were Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and also the Peoria tribe … now we don’t know how and why a lot of these confederacies came about, because we feel like the confederacies were established to assist the internal and external protection of these tribes,” McClinton said.
McClinton said the tribes in the Illinois Confederacy shared many similarities, as they spoke the Algonquian language and had similar political, economic and social structures.
“Beyond their political organization, we know more about their economic and social organization. All these tribes, especially east of the Mississippi River, were very much a part of a community or of a town. And in that town and in that community, they revered the woman, because the woman, the female, was the cultivator and the female also planted and harvested the fields,” McClinton said.
To learn more about the CSDI’s Native American Heritage Month events, visit their calendar of events. To learn more about violence against Indigenous women, visit the website for the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women.