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SDSU announces bachelor degree in American Indian studies

SAN DIEGO - In late November, San Diego State University announced that it will be offering a new Bachelor of Arts degree program in American Indian studies starting in the fall 2008 semester.

Since the 1970s, the college has offered a minor in the discipline. It was about five years ago that the American Indian studies department began the process of persuading college officials to approve the degree program.

Department chair Margaret Field said that she had to draw up two proposals to present to a university-level committee. In addition to lengthy interviews, each proposal took about two years for the committee to review and process.

Despite the red tape, Field and her colleagues were able to convince college officials that the program would be an asset, as California tribes and tribes abroad are gaining more economic footing and making greater contributions to state, local and city governments.

San Diego County alone has 18 federally recognized tribes within its boundaries - more tribes than any other county in the United States.

;'Tribes are coming up and out of the woodwork,'' she said, referring to the success of tribal gaming enterprises. ''It's not about educating Native American students about their culture; it's about educating everyone else.''

The department has added 10 new classes to the roster, bringing the total courses offered to about 20. Courses focus on history, culture, policies, gaming and contemporary issues of Native people.

Additionally, the program spotlights California tribes by offering lower-division classes in Kumeyaay history and contemporary California Indian issues, and upper-division classes in Indian peoples of California and Native cultures of California.

''We have a lot of tribal governments here and it's important for people to learn about them,'' she said.

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The major also offers the class, ''Tribal Gaming: Cultural and Political Context.'' Students from the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management's tribal gaming program can take the class as well.

Randy Baker, chair of the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming, said that the two degree disciplines differ greatly in focus, but he considers the American Indian studies department partners in education. ''We believe very strongly that our students need to learn about Native American culture,'' he said.

SDSU approved the tribal gaming program in 2005, and the first courses were offered this past fall semester. Baker said about a dozen students enrolled in the fledgling program.

''I am really pleased with the way it has gone, and I hope that the program lives up to its potential,'' he said.

As for the American Indian studies program, Field said that it is too early to tell how many students will enroll until later in the academic year. About 10 students have expressed interest in the program, she said.

Field said that graduates could expect to find jobs within the spectrum of tribal governments and institutions, museums and education. She said the degree could also serve as a springboard for students wanting to go on to graduate school to specialize in a particular area of American Indian studies. ''This degree will give a good idea of what your options are,'' she said.

In 1998, Field earned her doctorate in linguistics from the University of California - Santa Barbara with emphasis on the Navajo language and discourse, ethnography of classroom interaction, language revitalization, language ideology and multimedia development.

It had taken Field six years to learn how to speak Navajo; but since moving from New Mexico to California, she rarely runs into fluent speakers, and as a result, has slowly lost some of her ability to carry a conversation in the language. She now has her sights set on learning the Kumeyaay language.

SDSU is the second university within the California University system to incorporate an American Indian studies degree program. Humboldt State University in northern California established its program in 1994. Field said that San Francisco University would likely be the next to offer the major.

Founded in 1897, SDSU currently offers bachelor's degrees in 81 areas, master's degrees in 74 areas and doctorates in 16 areas, and has a current enrollment of about 35,000 students. For more information on the American Indian studies degree program, visit