Staff editorial: Tulane must holistically represent Native American culture

“The ‘Great Removal,’ or ‘Chickasaw Removal,’ is the saddest chapter in Chickasaw history,” reads the Chicksaw Nation website. Part of their land, taken during the Trail of Tears, is where Tulane University stands today.

National Native American Heritage Month was created in 1990 to honor the cultures of the “First Americans” like the Chickasaw people. This month is a time to reflect and learn about these indigenous communities. Tulane, however, falls short in its educational representation of Native American topics.

For the Spring 2018 semester, only one course is being offered that focuses on Native American studies: “Contemporary Native American Issues” in the Anthropology Department.

Given Tulane’s physical setting on formerly indigenous land, the university’s low representation of Native American and Native Alaskan students and the lack of primary and secondary educational resources related to indigenous studies, it is especially critical that Tulane places more weight on Native American studies. The university should start by expanding its available courses related to the study of American indigenous people and cultures.

Even courses about indigenous cultures that are offered by Tulane, such as the aforementioned “Contemporary Native American Issues,” are often offered as courses in anthropology, a field that often views cultural studies through a more historical lens. Anthropology’s empirical approach works on cultures known by their remains  those that were precursors to current societies.

Indigenous people, however, are not extinct, and this is why it is imperative for other academic departments at Tulane to tackle the issue of representation in a multifaceted way.

Tulane’s current view on Native American studies is also misguided in that it assumes that any study of these cultures exist in a vacuum, uninfluenced by subjects like politics, sociology and art.

Offered in different semesters, for instance, is a course called Arts of Native North America,” which counts as anthropology rather than art history. This classification discredits the works of indigenous people as legitimate art, a phenomenon that occurs far too often as indigenous art gets placed in natural history rather than art museums.

To truly represent indigenous studies, these topics must not be understood exclusively as anthropological histories. Especially now, during National Native American Month, Tulane must begin to adapt its course offerings on indigenous studies.

With a public education system that often glosses over indigenous struggles and studies, universities like Tulane have a rare opportunity to actively and openly teach about these cultures. The university cannot do this by discussing indigenous issues as objects of purely historical interest. It must be given the same attention and rigor as other subjects and be incorporated into other departments in addition to Anthropology.

If Tulane is truly committed to being a diverse institution, it must first rethink its educational approach to indigenous studies to create an environment of respect and understanding for the people whose land the university now calls home.

Staff Editorials are written weekly by members of the Tulane Hullabaloo Board and approved by the full Board by a 2/3 majority vote.

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