Aanii boozhoo, niijig. // Taanishi kiiyawow. As a field of study concerned with Indigenous issues and perspectives, American Indian and Indigenous Studies (AIIS) offers a unique and important vantage point from which to engage and understand the contemporary world and the complexities of settler-colonial societies like the United States and Canada. The AIIS curriculum is informed and engaged in a way of seeing that simultaneously looks backward and inward, while imagining a more equitable and sustainable present. At the core of AIIS, Indigenous knowledges and languages illuminate this in important ways. The Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe or Odawa language) term for an ancestor, for instance, is also the same word used to describe a descendant. By dismantling Western historical linearity, the word aanikoobijigan names both a great-grandparent and a great-grandchild. Embedded within this word is an epistemology that acknowledges both relationships to people and to place. What happens when the world is not seen as a series of developments, but rather it is circular and interrelated?
In AIIS, we recognize that for many Indigenous communities, they project and plan seven generations into the future. If we are not planning this far into the future, are looking this far into the past, then we can never establish a sustainable present – let alone a sustainable future. Since generations are approximately 25 years, thinking seven generations into the future places at somewhere around 2200CE. If we understand that our ancestors our also our descendants, as aanikoobjigan does, then we also must look that far into the past. 1842CE was 175 years ago and, not inconsequentially, was the year that the last major treaty was signed in Michigan – The Treaty of La Pointe. Looking backward seven generations, we see the exact process of Manifest Destiny play itself out in what is now Michigan. At that time, Michigan State University was not even around, yet. In AIIS, we see part of our work is understanding and discussing what may be learned when we expand our historical memories and planning process to look outward nearly two-centuries in both directions.
Looking back over the last year alone may teach us how to better prepare for a more equitable present. Much has happened in the past year, especially across Indian Country or, as some say, throughout the Fourth World. In AIIS, we have been actively participating in, commenting on, and teaching about Indigenous issues. 2016 saw hundreds of Indigenous communities gather at and in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. The primary grievances at Standing Rock were the negative effects that the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) would have on the drinking water at Stand Rock, as well as how the pipeline’s approval infringed on Indigenous sovereignty and on treaty rights. Indigenous communities – including tribal citizens, Indigenous activists, non-Native allies, university students, and university professors – were in the forefront of an Indigenous-led social movement that sought to assert and prioritize Indigenous sovereignties and, as happened with the American Indian Movement beginning in 1968, place Indigenous social issues (and ecological concerns) within daily American and global political discourse. As many Indigenous peoples have understood since time immemorial, the ‘Stand with Standing Rock’ movement imagined another way of being in the world, one where we honor aki (Land), nibi (Water), and other manidoog (Spirits) as beings who have both spiritual, political, and legal rights.
As we saw, however, those at Standing Rock were met with violence and legal action. In January, only a few days into a new presidential administration, an Executive Order was signed that expedited the Secretary of the Army to approve DAPL. Just this month, a federal judge ruled that DAPL may remain operational, while the US government completes a court-ordered environmental review. Moreover, there is a move to shrink the size of Bears Ears National Monument, a sacred site for Ute, Diné, Hopi, and Zuni people, which would also open it up for drilling and extraction. After Standing Rock, Indigenous voices continue to speak loudly. To properly understand our contemporary moment, we must also understand the history, present, and future realities for Indigenous people in the United States and Canada, as well as globally. To do so, we must understand current politics in relationship to a long history of settler-colonialism and climate change. For many, issues effecting Indigenous people continue to demonstrate this in the present moment.
At MSU, we believe that Spartanishinaabeg will be the change agents in a world we want to see. MSU’s American Indian and Indigenous Studies is an extremely active Indigenous Studies program, whose faculty, students, and community members are known throughout the world for the work we do with, on, and for Indigenous peoples. Some of the recent accomplishments include:
AIIS faculty and Historian Susan Sleeper-Smith currently serves as the President of the American Society for Ethnohistory. In 2018, her book Indigenous Prosperity and American Conquest: Indian Women of the Ohio River Valley, 1690-1792 will be published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in cooperation with UNC Press. AIIS faculty and Anthropologist Heather Howard recently published an article ‘Co-Producing Community and Knowledge: Indigenous Epistemologies of Engaged, Ethical Research in an Urban Context’ in Engaged Scholar Journal. AIIS faculty and rhetorician Malea Powell continues to serve as the Chair of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRAC) at MSU, while AIIS faculty and archaeologist John Norder serves as Director of the Native American Institute (NAI).
AIIS faculty and education scholar Estrella Torrez maintains ongoing collaborations with Indigenous and Latinx youth, recently publishing multiple articles with her graduate students, including in The Bilingual Review / La Revista Bilingüe and Journal of Public Scholarship in Higher Education. AIIS Director and artist Dylan Miner hung solo exhibitions in the US and Canada, as well as group exhibitions in Sweden, Ireland, and across Turtle Island. Most recently, he published a limited edition artist’s book entitled Aanikoobijigan // Waawaasheshi, and has a forthcoming book chapter on Yale University Press.
AIIS faculty and legal scholars Matthew L.M. Fletcher and Wenona T. Singel both spent last spring teaching at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. Additionally, Fletcher recently published the hornbook on Federal Indian Law, while they co-authored ‘Indian Children and the Federal-Tribal Trust Relationship’ in the Nebraska Law Review. AIIS faculty and Timnick Chair in the Humanities Kyle Powys Whyte has published no less than 20 articles and book chapters over the past two years. AIIS faculty and ethnomusicologist Chris Scales co-authored with Gabe Desrosiers a book chapter called 'Nimiidaa! (Let's all Dance): Music and Dance on the Northern Plains Powwow Trail’ in America's Musical Diversity.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine – a game with writing by AIIS faculty and game developer Elizabeth LaPensée – won Developers Choice Award at IndieCade 2017 (http://www.indiecade.com/games/selected/where-the-water-tastes-like-wine), the premiere independent games festival. He game Thunderbird Strike also won an award at ImagiNative. Her student Kaitlin Rose Lenhard's film The Stories We Share is screening at the American Indian Film Festival. AIIS graduate affiliate Rachel Allen was selected for the Native American Fellowship Program at the Peabody Essex Museum for the summer, which has since turned into her receiving a Mellon Fellowship for the year. AIIS graduate assistant and PhD student in Philosophy, Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner published poetry in News from Native California on multiple occasions.
We would like to welcome our 2017-2018 AIIS Predoctoral Fellow Eva Jewell. Eva is Anishinaabekwe from Deshkaan Ziibing (Chippewas of the Thames) in Ontario and is completing her PhD at Royals Roads University. Additionally, Emily Sorroche has been hired by MSU and will be the advisor for NAISO, among her many other tasks. Binesi Morrisseau will be in residence at AIIS as a Visiting Scholar, while he focuses on ‘emerging “intersectionality scholarship” that fosters viable praxis to rearticulate and conceptualize Indigenous life and resurgence within the auspices of settler-colonialism.’
Finally, I would like to congratulate last year’s AIIS Pre-doctoral fellow Erin Sutherland who began a tenure-system position at the University of Alberta, Augustana this fall. Erin has been active on noteworthy curatorial work and recently published an important essay in Canadian Art (see http://canadianart.ca/features/spotlight-constellations-of-kin/). Akikwe Cornell, AIIS Pre-doctoral fellow from the previous year, has accepted a Visiting Assistant Professor position in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
PLEASE CONTACT US BEFORE STOPPING BY. American Indian and Indigenous Studies is located in Baker Hall, Room 414 and 416. Because we may be out of the office for meetings or programming, please contact GA Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner or Prof. Dylan Miner before stopping by.