BOZEMAN, Mont. – The Montana State University Department of Native American Studies has received accreditation from the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium, the first mainstream non-indigenous controlled institution in the world to receive the designation.
The WINHEC is the accreditation body for indigenous education initiatives and systems that identify common practices, criteria and principles by which indigenous people live, according to Walter Fleming, chairman of MSU’s Department of Native American Studies.
WINHEC announced MSU’s accreditation at its winter meeting at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Other programs receiving accreditation were Maori programs in New Zealand, the Seven Generations Education Institute of Ontario, Canada and the Sami University College in Norway.
Fleming said the accreditation is important because it signals to students and other institutions worldwide that MSU has made Native American students and programs a priority in recruitment and retention.
“We know there are Native American Studies programs that exist in name only; that serve no Native students and are not accountable to Native communities,” Fleming said. “By being accredited by WINHEC, potential students and indigenous communities can be assured that MSU’s Native American Studies department has met both academic and cultural standards of excellence.”
He said MSU was invited to apply for the accreditation. A WINHEC evaluation team visited MSU in November. The team visited with MSU President Geoff Gamble, the MSU Council of Tribal Elders, as well as NAS faculty and staff, program directors and students.
Fleming said another bonus of the process was that the department was asked to identify MSU and its values while preparing for the visit, which the department said were honesty, generosity, kindness, openness, hard work, family and spirituality.
“Institutions rarely assess, or even identify, their institutional values,” he said. “The WINHEC accreditation process has given NAS an opportunity to identify a value system upon which it has always operated on but never articulated.”
As a result of the WINHEC accreditation, MSU will also receive accreditation by the National Indigenous Accreditation Board.