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University of Pennsylvania Working on Native Studies Minor

Students and faculty at the University of Pennsylvania are pushing for a Native American studies minor to help understand the nation's history.

Varun Menon, a non-Native freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, proposed the idea of establishing a minor in Native American studies in January to the Undergraduate Assembly and the Natives at Penn, a student group.

He became interested in the field of study after taking a writing seminar about the influence Natives had on the founding on the United States government, reported The Daily Pennsylvanian. Menon specifically mentioned how ideals from the Iroquois Confederacy were used when beginning the U.S. government.

Also helping to start the Native American studies minor is Margaret Bruchac, of Abenaki descent, who was hired by Penn this year. She’s an assistant professor of anthropology and only the third tenure-track Native professor to be hired by the school, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Bruchac told the student newspaper that more effort has been put in to recruit Native Americans at Penn.

“Over the years, it’s clear that Penn has increased its efforts to bring in knowledgeable Native American educators and tribal leaders [to Penn and] … Penn has been actively recruiting Native American postdoctoral fellows and faculty for several years,” Bruchac said.

She said the school already has the basic courses available, but student interest in the minor will be the deciding factor in bringing the program to fruition. She said what students can do is sign up for those Native American courses that Penn currently offers to help show interest.

“I see a very bright future for Native American studies at Penn,” Robert Preucel, the director of the Penn Center for Native American Studies, told The Daily Pennsylvanian. The center’s website lists the courses with Native American content currently offered at Penn. Preucel also pointed out the importance of learning American Indian history.

“To be an informed citizen of the United States means that one needs to know about the founding of our nation and the history of the ongoing relationships between Indian country and the federal government.

“Native American history is thus the history of all Americans,” he added.