American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota is the oldest such program in the country with autonomous departmental status. The department was first envisioned amid the civil rights struggles of the sixties, when in 1966 a small ad hoc committee presented a formal report to the University’s central administration. The report stressed the need to establish links between the University and Minnesota’s eleven federally-recognized tribes to develop recruitment and retention efforts for American Indian students, and to create courses on issues of importance to American Indian communities.
University administrators did not lend their support for the report until political pressures forced them to respond to the demands of a growing American Indian student population and the radical activism of the Twin Cities’ American Indian community. Across campus, the activism of African American and Chicano/Chicana student groups persuaded administration to implement programs that served the needs of students and communities of color.
In early 1969, a committee of University faculty, American Indian students, and representatives from the American Indian community developed a proposal that defined the specific content and structure of an undergraduate degree in American Indian Studies. The proposal was guided by the need to educate the general student body on the complexities of historical and contemporary American Indian issues, and also the goal of developing curricula for the indigenous languages of Minnesota—Dakota and Ojibwe. In May 1969, the committee submitted the proposal to the University’s Social Science Divisional Council, and in June of that year, the Minnesota Board of Regents approved the Department of American Indian Studies.