After decades as a highly regarded interdepartmental program at UCLA, American Indian Studies has been elevated to a full academic department. This achievement is a tribute to the leadership and advocacy of Native American faculty, staff and students over many years. While American Indian Studies will continue its tradition of collaboration with other disciplines and departments, the new department will be able to appoint its own faculty, hire its own staff and exercise greater institutional self-determination.
The American Indian Studies department has its roots in the American Indian Studies Center, which for more than half a century has been a site of scholarship, instruction, community building and civic collaboration, engaging both Native American and non-Native people. The center has earned a national reputation and created one of the world’s first master’s degree programs in American Indian studies in 1982.
The elevation of the program takes place at a particularly important time for the university’s relationship with Native American communities. In November, we announced an agreement with members of the Gabrielino Tongva community to ensure tribal access to campus for ceremonial events, workshops and educational opportunities. The agreement also includes incorporating traditional ways of planting, harvesting and gathering into our campus landscaping and caretaking practices.
Prior to that important agreement, last June, UCLA announced our Native American and Pacific Islander Bruins Rising Initiative to better support our Native faculty, staff and students. And last spring, the University of California system announced the Native American Opportunity Plan, which will provide grants to cover tuition and fees for students who are members of federally recognized Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native tribes.
All of these advances recognize both the historic significance of Native Americans and their importance to UCLA’s present and its future. I am confident that the combination of these efforts will bolster UCLA’s Native student, faculty and staff populations; strengthen our research, scholarship and teaching in Indigenous studies; and continue to build bridges between the university and indigenous communities in California and throughout the nation.