Montana State University-Bozeman offers a master's degree, graduate certificate program, and an undergraduate minor in Native American Studies.

Host Nations and American Indian Studies: Respecting Indigenous Peoples

Duane Champagne

One of the rules observed by indigenous nations is that land is mutually recognized and respected. When indigenous people travel to visit with other indigenous nations, they respect the culture, government, and land. Comments of appreciation and recognition of the land are often given in speeches. Attachment to specific territories are embedded in history, creation stories and culture. The land plays a significant role in the identity of Indigenous Peoples.

From time immemorial, specific homelands determined the location of indigenous rights. Even when land was sold or taken away by other groups or nation states, Indigenous Peoples continued to honor their original lands. They often carry out ceremonies and make visits in memory and respect for their original territories.

In the contemporary world, many indigenous individuals migrate for work, and often cross nation state boundaries. National boundaries are not arbitrary for Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous rights and land are closely interrelated. Indigenous Peoples from Mexico may migrate to the United States in search of employment, and while in the United States they carry on their indigenous cultures and ceremonies. Nevertheless, the homelands of Indigenous Mexican Peoples and their indigenous rights to land and self-government remain in Mexico. Indigenous Mexican people should honor and respect the land of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States. Both U.S. and Mexican Indigenous Peoples can and should seek common cause for indigenous rights, but they are defending indigenous rights attached to different homelands.

Similar issues arise in the formation of Indigenous Studies Departments or programs. American Indian Studies refers to Indians in the United States. The field of American Indian Studies, unlike Asia-American Studies, Black Studies, and Chicano Studies, has not widely developed into an academic discipline.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn in 1997 wrote an article “Who Stole American Indian Studies?” where she describes how American Indian Studies was dominated by colonial theories and goals, while indigenous scholarship was discredited. Current efforts to create American Indian Studies or Indigenous Studies departments continue to fail for lack of institutional support. Furthermore, Indigenous Studies remains dominated by ethnic studies theories, while indigenous theory focused on defending indigenous rights and issues, is discouraged. The movement toward a broader, international Indigenous Studies is plagued by theories of ethnicity that do not focus on indigenous perspectives or arguments.

Efforts to move toward Indigenous Studies should respect the fundamental principals of indigenous identity. The Indigenous Peoples of each national region should be respected. Indigenous policies within the United States, or Mexico, or Canada, take on different patterns because of differing patterns of nation state policies, differing colonial histories, and differing indigenous nations. The predominance of an indigenous identity without reference to locality, land, specific culture, is a homogenization of the diversity of Indigenous Peoples everywhere.

Indigenous Studies is its own field of study, but should embody respect for the diversity of Indigenous Peoples at the local, national, and international levels. Thus American Indian Studies should remain as a study of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States. Just as there should be Mexican Indigenous Studies or Canadian Indigenous Studies. The same for the Indigenous Peoples of other nations, they each form a pattern of study based on diverse cultures that are engaged in specific nation-state and colonial experiences.

Other Indigenous Peoples should be invited to study at the international level, but at the same time should respect and honor the host Indigenous Peoples of the nation, and locality. Indigenous Studies should not divide the world in ways that do not respect the local and national territories of host Indigenous Peoples. Immigrant Indigenous Peoples should respect the land and governments of host Indigenous Peoples. At the same time, host Indigenous nations should recognize and respect the cultures of immigrant Indigenous Peoples. Academic departments need to respect the local, national, and international levels of the indigenous movement. Otherwise, Indigenous Studies will remain lost and stolen from the cultures and values of indigenous nations everywhere.

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