Arts and Science to Offer New Minor

Native American Indigenous Studies Minor Available in Fall 2017
Associate Professor Dennis Kelley

Dennis Kelley, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, serves as the coordinator of the new minor in Native American Indigenous Studies.

Jordan Yount
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Digital Storytelling
Peace Studies
Religious Studies

Most Missourians probably are aware of their state’s Native American heritage, if for no other reason than the plethora of Native American place names such as Miami, Neosho, Osceola, and Tecumseh, to name just a few. Numerous lakes and rivers throughout the state bear the names of tribes that no longer inhabit the state, and, of course, the state’s name is derived from the Missouri or Missouria tribe and means “one who has dugout canoes.” When Missouri became a state in 1821, some 20,000 members of the Kickapoo, Shawnee, Ioway, Otoe, Delaware, and Osage tribes remained in Missouri, but by the 1830s most had been pushed out by the state’s expanding white population.

Cultural Immersion

Beginning in fall 2017, students at MU will be able to immerse themselves in Native American history, culture, language, religion, and more by enrolling in the new Native American Indigenous Studies minor. Dennis Kelley, an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, serves as the coordinator of the new academic offering and says students will learn about indigenous peoples outside of the United States as well. He credits English professor Joanna Hearne for spearheading the effort to create a new minor following discussions with others who teach in the area of indigenous studies, including Joseph Erb in digital storytelling and Mark Palmer and Soren Larsen in geography.

“Our students could benefit by having a minor on their transcripts that says they have expertise in these areas, such as Indian law, Indian health—the kinds of things that would help them be more attractive on the job market,” Kelley says. 

Work on the curriculum is still being formalized, but Kelley and the others anticipate initial courses in English, geography, peace studies, religious studies, and anthropology. The next step will be making connections outside of the humanities, perhaps with the School of Law, the School of Medicine, and the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources.

“There are a lot of treaties working their way through the courts, and there is a need for people who have expertise in both the legal system and in American Indian cultural issues,” Kelley says. He cites Indian health as an area that could see growth because many reservation communities have the resources to build a medical clinic but have difficulty attracting the personnel needed to run it.

The Big Picture

Kelley says the initial course (Native American Indigenous Studies or NAIS) will be a broad overview of indigenous studies, with other courses spread out across the College of Arts and Science. He says it makes sense to house the minor in the Department of Religious Studies because religion permeates Native American culture and tradition.

“Even if you teach courses in anthropology or sociology or psychology, if you are teaching about indigenous peoples, you are aware of the way religion crosses over into it—the idea that the spiritual tradition is the language, it is the land, it is the family, the economy, it infuses everything,” Kelley says.

Kelley and his colleagues hope the new minor will create a pipeline to the university for Native American students, either from reservations or from states with large Native American populations, such as Oklahoma.

In fall 2016, 67 Native American students were enrolled at MU and 215 were enrolled across the University of Missouri system. Kelley also says he hopes that creating a community of Native American scholars and students will help retention efforts, since those enrollment numbers have declined since 2011.

Kelley says all students who enroll in the NAIS minor will take a required core class, which he will teach, and then they can draw from courses across campus. The 15-hour minor will require nine hours of 2,000 level or above coursework.

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