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Summer 2018 News & Highlights from American Indian Studies

June 22, 2018

A painting of Fort Snelling with Native Americans and horses

A painting of Fort Snelling with Native Americans and horses
Detail from "Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill" by Jim Denomie

Greetings from the Department of American Indian Studies!
I write my first update on the department to you in my last semester as chair of the department, but I hope that this will become a more regular communication. We have been very busy, and we anticipate many more events, programs, and priorities we think you may want to connect to. I will try to highlight our work in the past year.

  • Beginning in Fall 2017, we have had a monthly series of Native Artist presentations. Funded by a donor, our series aims to rebuild our connections and collaborations with the amazing community of Native artists (some of whom we are proud to call alumni). Check out the story on one such event featuring Jim Denomie.
  • Our bachelor's degree in Ojibwe Language is completing its second year, and word of the program continues to spread. We get inquiries from far and wide about taking these language classes.
  • Our Ojibwe language faculty member, Brendan Fairbanks, has received tenure and a promotion to Associate Professor this year--congrats, Dr. Fairbanks!
  • Associate Professor Vicente (Vince) Diaz has received numerous grants in support of his program of research, teaching, and community engagement on canoe culture, building and using indigenous watercraft as a platform for engaging with indigenous communities in Minnesota. More info may be found in the story linked below.
  • Some of our undergraduate students have been so involved in Prof. Diaz's program that they have launched a new student group called Canoe Rising. The group is supported by our department. Anticipate hearing more about their activities next year.
  • Professor David Wilkins had two books published in the past year. Dismembered: Native Disenrollment and the Battle for Human Rights, co-authored with Shelly Wilkins (University of Washington Press), and a fourth edition of the book American Indian Politics and the American Political System, co-authored with Heidi K. Stark (Rowman and Littlefield).
  • Dr. Carter Meland, who has taught literature and film courses in our department for many years, published his first novel, Stories for a Lost Child. It was a finalist for two book awards, quite an honor for a first novel!
  • Affiliate faculty achievements include a Dean's Medal for Jean O'Brien (History), and David Chang (History) has been named a Distinguished McKnight Professor.
  • We manage several scholarship programs through the department, many of which will be awarded shortly. These include the Lund Scholarship, for a female Native student in a CLA major; Dakota and Ojibwe language study scholarships, for both matriculated and continuing education students; and a new scholarship aimed at supporting transfer students. We are working hard to increase the number of Native students on campus and to support and retain them when they get here.
  • We have new staff members! After the retirement of the amazing Edna Day last year, we have now created a Curriculum Specialist position, ably filled by Brittany Anderson. Our current Community Engagement Coordinator (the role formerly undertaken by Brittany) is Fawn Grauman-White. And our day-to-day office needs are covered by the cheerful and efficient Benjamin Alvarado.
  • Finally, keep an eye out for news of our summer program for high school students about to launch. The American Indian Summer Institute (AISI) will bring students in grades 9-11 from Minnesota's reservation communities to our campus for a week in late July. They will have the chance to check out campus life, sample some classes (including Dakota and Ojibwe language), interact with undergraduate mentors, and overall to see themselves as future college students. All part of our commitments to increasing the Native student community on campus here.

I am quite sure there is more that I have missed, but you can always check out our website and Facebook page to hear more about what is going on in American Indian Studies. It has been a real honor and privilege to serve as the chair of this department for the past three years. I am continually amazed by the energy and voice of our students, faculty, and staff. Please connect with us in the coming year--and in the meantime enjoy the summer!
My best regards,
Kat Hayes
AIS Department Chair


Vince Diaz with wooden boat model.

Canoes: Indigeneity, Relocation, and Maintaining Tradition

Due to rising sea levels, the Pacific Islands are struggling with cultural loss as Natives are forced to relocate. To counteract the potential loss of water practices in Pacific Islander cultures, Professor Vince Diaz is working on three major canoe projects that will work in tandem to maintain and adapt their ancient traditions.


portrait of Brendan Fairbanks.

Preserving a People: Reversing the Decline of Ojibwe Language

With as few as 1,000 Native speakers of Ojibwe remaining, preserving the language is more important than ever. It's "a big effort to not lose who we are; how we view the world is in the language," says Professor Brendan Fairbanks, who works tirelessly to revitalize the language through teaching, research, and special programming.


Detail from "Attack on Fort Snelling Bar and Grill" by Jim Denomie

Native Artist Series: Healing, Humor, and Art

The Native Artist Talk Series, hosted by the Department of American Indian Studies, features Native American artists and provides a platform for discourse about modern Native American identities, creating opportunities for engagement between students, University alumni, faculty, and the Twin Cities community. 


Portrait of Katherine Beane.

Colonialism to Sovereignty: The Restoration of Bde Maka Ska

In 1829, Dakota leader Mahpiya Wicasta (Cloud Man) led a group of Dakota men on a hunt. The group became trapped in a blizzard for three days, buried under the snow. He later founded an agricultural community on the site, which he called Ḣeyate Otuŋwe, on the shores of a lake that Dakota people today call Bde Maka Ska. Nearly two centuries later, Cloud Man's great-great grandchildren led the charge to reclaim the lake's Dakota name, after having long been named after white secessionist John Caldwell Calhoun. "We don't call it a change, we call it a restoration," descendant Katherine Beane says when asked about the renaming of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska


Portrait of Lennixx-Rodney Lee

Bright Lights Lennixx-Rodney Lee

Lennixx-Rodney Lee, who double majored in American Indian studies and studies in cinema and media culture, has been recognized for outstanding work in an honors thesis titled "Native American Women in Contemporary Film and Television: An Analysis of Death and Two Gendered Lenses."


portrait of Jean O'Brien

Reviving Memory, Creating Change

Professor Jean O'Brien has been awarded the Dean's Medalist award for 2018. What began as a desire to explore her American Indian heritage has developed into a career as an esteemed historian, scholar, and mentor--surrounding her goal of exploring and teaching the importance of persistence.