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Scholars OK Native American and indigenous studies association.

By Gale Courey Toensing -- Today staff

NORMAN, Okla. - Earlier this year, a small group of scholars scheduled three meetings over the next three years to probe the level of interest, if any, in creating an independent Native American and indigenous studies association. The idea was so enthusiastically embraced by the 300-plus participants in the first of those three meetings that the group was sent off with a mandate to form the association by the next event.

That first meeting, held May 3 - 5 and called ''What's Next for Native American and Indigenous Studies,'' was hosted by the University of Oklahoma Native American Studies Department. More than 300 scholars attended from across the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Great Britain and Switzerland.

Robert Warrior, Osage, sparked the idea two years ago for an academic association that would support the work of scholars in the field.

Warrior is the Edith Kinney Gaylord Presidential Professor at the University of Oklahoma, where he teaches in Native American Studies and English.

Warrior's idea generated a steering committee that includes Ines Hernandez-Avila, University of California - Davis; J. Kehaulani Kauanui, Wesleyan University; K. Tsianina Lomawaima, University of Arizona; Jean O'Brien, University of Minnesota; and Jace Weaver, University of Georgia.

The committee organized the meeting and developed the program. There were 54 panels or papers delivered involving 225 participants. Topics included history, philosophy, tribally centered studies, mental health issues, indigenous feminisms, literature, film, ethnic cleansing, autobiography, same-sex marriage and methodology.

Warrior said he could not have been happier with the meeting's outcome.

''I found the mood to be nearly electric at points. As the person who had originated the idea for this particular effort and then as part of the steering committee trying to provide the leadership, I was personally incredibly gratified to see that the effort was already ahead of the curve, that we're not pulling people along, they're really pushing us forward,'' Warrior said.

The association that will be shaped by its members into an entity that is scholarly and interdisciplinary, has annual meetings that rotate among institutional hosts. Open to anyone who does work in Native American studies, it has a committee that will organize the agenda and program for annual meetings.

This will be the first academic association to bring people together working in all different areas of Native American and indigenous studies.

''You find some associations that are national in scope, like the Modern Language Association or the American Studies Association, and even some smaller ones like the Western History Association that have scholars in the field doing long standing work, but nothing that brings everybody together; and I think one of the enduring messages of our efforts is that in fact when we can bring everybody together in the same place at the same time, there's a real benefit to everybody in seeing the diverse things people are doing across disciplines, across fields and that we really do have our own thing. It may be informed by different methodologies and approaches, but there's really something going on here that's important,'' Warrior said.

A majority of the participants were Native scholars, but the association will be open to anyone doings academic work in the fields of Native American and indigenous studies.

That may be a controversial position to those who think Native American studies should be done only by Native people, Warrior said.

''This is a time when we think we ought to be able to have the scholarly confidence to say we can handle this, we can take on everybody who want to say they're doing indigenous studies, Native American studies, First Nation studies, Islander studies - whatever we're calling this large grouping of things - and whoever is doing it ought to come and participate in this,'' Warrior said.

The meeting resonated beyond its three-day timeframe, said steering committee member Kauanui.

''People are still talking about it. We're getting e-mails from all over the country. We had an absolutely unanimous mandate at the business meeting to go forward to start laying the groundwork for the formation of a Native American and indigenous studies association that we can actually form officially at the next meeting. It was really magical,'' Kauanui said.

The next meeting is scheduled for April 10 - 12, 2008, at University of Georgia, hosted by the Institute of Native American Studies there.

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