$2.5 Million Grant to Bolster Five Colleges Native Studies Program

$2.5 Million Grant to Bolster Five Colleges Native Studies Program

The Five College Consortium announced on Jan. 14 that it received a $2.5 million grant dedicated to enhancing scholarship in its Native American and Indigenous studies (NAIS) program. The grant, which was awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is among the largest ever received by the consortium.

The consortium’s program allows students to complete a certificate in NAIS, pulling courses, faculty and other resources from across the five colleges to mold the curriculum. Currently, a number of students across the five colleges, including Amherst, are completing the certificate.

According to Sarah Pfatteicher, executive director of the Five College Consortium, funds from the grant will be disbursed over four years to create additional programming and academic support in NAIS, including three new faculty positions, one new program advisor, new courses, enhancements to existing courses and increased visiting scholars. Specific curricula and pedagogy will be designed and approved by faculty at each individual college in the consortium.

“There will be a steering committee for the grant that includes representatives from each of the campuses. The funding will be managed by the consortium offices, but most of the funds will actually be expended by the individual institutions, at the direction of the steering committee and administrators on the campuses,” Pfatteicher said.

Professor of American Studies Kiara Vigil, a NAIS program advisor who helped write the grant application, expressed “delight” at the award of the grant. “I worked hard on crafting language that would adequately convey all the work we do across the five colleges pertaining to NAIS and what more we can do with this type of support,” she said. “It was really exciting to see these things recognized by the Mellon Foundation.”

Vigil and Professor of American Studies Lisa Brooks, who also advises the NAIS program and contributed to forming the application for the grant, also pointed to the ability to support new faculty at the five colleges as one of the key benefits of the grant. “[Vigil and I] are excited that the grant allows for new hires in the five colleges, including other schools where students really need Native and Native studies faculty, and schools that have faced retirements of vital faculty in this field,” Brooks wrote in an email interview.

“Having more colleagues will create new opportunities for the certificate program, the annual [five college] NAIS symposium and other types of collaboration we can’t even imagine yet,” Vigil added.

Brooks also noted the potential of the funds to allow for a more interdisciplinary approach to NAIS. “We advocate that Native knowledge and Indigenous methodologies should not just be taught in Native studies classes, but in biology and environmental studies, in political science and law, as well as in English and history,” she said. “This grant will allow faculty across the five colleges to begin to think about how to bring Indigenous studies into their classes, and we’ll be thinking carefully together about how to make that possible in a way that is respectful and thoughtful in relation to Native nations here in New England and far beyond.”

Students also had a variety of hopes and expectations for the grant. “It is my hope that not only will we have more professors in Native studies but that they will be Native themselves,” wrote Sarah Montoya ’21, co-president of Indigenous and Native Citizens of Amherst, in an email interview. “I also feel that it would be lovely to hire faculty from tribal colleges, such as the Institute for American Indian Art.”

For Brooks, Vigil and Pfatteicher, the grant adds a significant boost to an already strong program. “The NAIS committee and the [five college] certificate that it created have both existed for more than two decades, and are doing well — the committee is active and certificate enrollment is strong,” said Pfatticher. “This additional expertise will enrich the content of what is currently offered and create new opportunities and experiences that we haven’t yet imagined.”

“We’ve been well supported here since Lisa Brooks and I first arrived in 2012 with the mandate to build such a program within American studies at the college,” added Vigil. She pointed to the expansion of the college’s Archives and Special Collections to include collections related to Native studies as an example of the program’s growth. “The acquisition of the Native Books Collection by Archives and Special Collections greatly enhanced my ability to offer NAIS courses here. Amherst received our own grant from the Mellon Foundation that will further support work with this important collection. It’s a very vibrant time for Native studies,” she said.