Dartmouth to Offer Native American Studies in N.M.

Friday, July 11, 2014
Hanover — Dartmouth College, originally intended by founder Eleazar Wheelock to educate Native Americans, will offer an off-campus program through its Department of Native American Studies for the first time in its history.

The Santa Fe, N.M., program, slated to begin in the fall of 2015, will focus on Native American art, tribal law and government, department chair N. Bruce Duthu said Thursday. While in the past the department has funded independent studies, it has never offered a group off-campus program.

“I think it’s going to be another form of connection to native communities,” Duthu said. “For 40 years, Dartmouth has operated a fairly passive model.”

Ever since former Dartmouth President John Kemeny expanded the Native American Studies program in the early 1970s, the college has brought American Indians to Hanover. In 2007, Dartmouth hosted sessions of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, co-sponsored by Vermont Law School where Duthu taught classes during that time, on its campus. Now, the college can come to them: As the Department of Native American Studies has grown, so has the possibility that it can spare funding and professors for an off-campus program, according to Duthu.

The search for the right location began four years ago and eventually settled on Santa Fe, which, as the state capital, is the seat of government relations with nearby Navajo, Apache and Pueblo reservations. The Institute of American Indian Arts will host the program on its campus and its students will be able to enroll in Dartmouth’s new classes as well.

Duthu said he had considered making one of the program’s three classes an independent study, but his colleagues urged him to wait until Dartmouth made deeper roots in the community, and in the meantime to offer more classes that local students could take.

“We don’t want to create a Dartmouth bubble on the campus of some other school,” he said.

The program’s primary goal will be for students to engage native communities in ways that aren’t possible in a Hanover classroom, “so that native people aren’t just appearing in textbooks or films,” Duthu said.

“They can see a tribal council in action — they can see a tribal court in action,” he said.

The Isleta Pueblo Indians are an example. After the Clean Water Act of 1987 granted tribes the same authority as states to regulate water standards, the Isleta forced Albuquerque authorities to raise their standards for water quality.

“Students may not see them (tribal governments) in that role, as political bodies exercising real power,” Duthu said.

In the past, the college has had to cancel some off-campus programs because of a lack of student interest, but Duthu said that the results of an informal survey of Native American Studies classes and campus programs was positive.

Dartmouth has 151 students who self-identify as Native American, according to Native American Program Director Kapi’olani Laronal, out of an undergraduate enrollment of 4,276 in the fall of 2013.

Yet Duthu stressed that the Santa Fe program would be open to any Dartmouth student with a sufficient interest in the subject.

To that end, he and the Native American Studies faculty lowered the program’s prerequisite requirements to only two classes in the department.

By giving students experience on the ground, the Santa Fe program will also fit in with Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon’s push for hands-on learning, Duthu said. In a June 2014 interview with the Valley News editorial staff, Hanlon said that one of the pillars of his vision for Dartmouth would be the expansion of its experiential learning opportunities.

Duthu also hoped that the relationships that Dartmouth developed in New Mexico would lead to mutually valuable, long-term projects.

“We really hope it’ll be the opening of a two-way street,” he said.

If the students spoke to a group of local Native American artists, Duthu said, they could discuss the influence of the markets on native artistic expression in aesthetic, economic or legal terms.

“How do you counter the billion dollar ripoff market that exists out there?” Duthu said, referring to popular jewelry, textiles and pottery knockoffs that are manufactured abroad and passed off as native-made.

As the new program develops stronger ties to Santa Fe institutions and the surrounding tribes, Duthu predicts it will spin off ongoing projects where arriving students can step into the shoes of their predecessors.

Duthu will travel to New Mexico to lead the first iteration of the program, which will take 16 students every other year.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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