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Gonzaga University Native American Studies Program In Its Second Year

The Native American Studies Program at Gonzaga University is in its second year and enrollments have grown consistently.
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The Native American Studies Program at Gonzaga University is in its second year and according to director Laurie Arnold “enrollments have grown consistently since the first course was offered last year.”

Arnold, a member of the Sinixt Band of the Colville Confederated Tribes who grew up on the Colville Reservation, said the university has a “small, but vibrant Native American student population, including students from more than a dozen Native communities.”

The 21-credit Native American Studies minor is open to all Gonzaga undergraduate students. According to Arnold, a key learning goal of the program is for students to gain a broader understanding of tribal sovereignty.

"Tribal sovereignty is a difficult concept for students unfamiliar with Native peoples and tribal rights. Native American tribes have a direct government-to-government relationship with the United States, which informs tribal political sovereignty,” Arnold said. “Equally important, tribes retain unique cultural values, informed by homeland, language, and traditional practices, and those values are applied to tribal governance, economic development, and day-to-day organizational operations.”

Not only are students gaining an understanding of tribal sovereignty with the Native American Studies program at Gonzaga, but they are also gaining an understanding of Indian country, which is all around them.

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“Gonzaga is situated on the Columbia Plateau, in the midst of five local tribes, and the state of Washington has 29 federally recognized Indian Tribes. Contemporary tribes are dynamic political and economic actors, and have emerged as leaders in areas such as sustainable environmental practices and endangered language restoration,” Arnold said. “Native Americans are not peoples of the past, but instead apply their unique worldview to their professional work, including business, law, art, education, and health care.”

This is why the curriculum allows for a number of Native guest speakers.

Arnold also points out the program’s symbiotic Native American and Catholic values, which care for the whole person—physically, spiritually, intellectually, and culturally.

“Throughout this program, we will discover how Native American pursuit of sovereignty—both political and cultural—reflects Native American beliefs in dignity and social justice. How all Native peoples must necessarily become more than competent outside their own cultures,” Arnold said. “And, finally, how Native American communities value the planet as a mother, and care for it as such, and through this care engage with global social and environmental issues.”

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