NMU made a historic decision by approving the only Native American Studies major in Michigan to be offered for Fall 2016, making it one of only 111 programs nationally.
The Center for Native American Studies (CNAS) intends to advertise the major to the 566 tribal communities in the U.S., said Associate Professor Martin Reinhardt. The advertising will focus on the Great Lakes region, but will include tribal colleges and tribal schools across the nation.
“I think it’s part of how our campus is growing generally in the area of diversity,” Reinhardt said. “This is a good sign of progress in that area.”
Two classes will be added to the curriculum for the major, a First Year Experience course and a capstone course. The major also includes the addition of another full-time position in the CNAS department, said Reinhardt, who believes the possibility of budget cuts won’t substantially impede the progress of the major.
“I think it’s actually going to help the enrollment issue because it’s going to attract people here who, otherwise, may be going out of state because there are just no other programs in the state of Michigan for it,” Reinhardt said.
April Lindala, director of the CNAS, said they have been working towards implementing a major since 2010. She anticipates that, while some students will bump their Native American Studies (NAS) minor up to the major, the major will draw in about 25 students who are new to NMU.
The CNAS has been the smallest in terms of workforce for as long as Lindala has been the director. While hiring as many full-time positions as are necessary can’t happen currently, Lindala said, the center has always achieved a lot every year with a small staff.
“I was an undergraduate when the NAS minor was introduced, and was a student in the very first [NAS] course offered,” Lindala said. “There are days that I am overwhelmed at how much work has been done in the past 24 years.”
Caitlin Wright, a senior Spanish major and president of the Native American Language and Culture organization on campus, said she wishes the major could have happened sooner so that she could have participated in it.
“I’m really hoping, honestly, that this major is going to act as a beacon for everybody around us to see, ‘Hey, they have this, this is where we need to be,’” Wright said. “We’ve got our own little lighthouse right here on campus.”
Senior criminal justice major Rachel McCaffrey hopes to double major and be one of the first people to graduate with the NAS major in December 2016.
“The fact that I actually have the opportunity now to pursue a career and a major that I’m completely passionate about is an absolute amazing opportunity,” McCaffrey said. “It’s going to provide a lot of opportunities for education – educating people and maybe even sparking new passions.”