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Welcome to the Indigenous Nations Studies (INST) website!

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A message from our former Interim Director:

Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, Professor Emeritus of Indigenous Nations Studies, began his welcome note in last year’s Awards Banquet program with the following words: “Greetings relatives!  I would like to acknowledge the people whose land we are standing on today, the Multnomah and Clackamas Peoples.  It is important to acknowledge the ancestors of this place and to recognize that we are here because of the sacrifices they were forced to make.  In remembering the Multnomah and Clackamas communities we honor their memory, their lives, and their descendants.  We also remember that we are guests of this land and must do our best never to forget its original inhabitants.”

Of course, with the transition from spring to fall comes the end of one academic year and the beginning of another.  Yet more important this year, this period of transition is also a time for a double-celebration, because of the arrival of Dr. Theodore Van Alst as the new INST Director and the launch of the new Indigenous Nations and Native American Studies (INNAS) major!

Dr. Ted Van Alst, immediate past chair of the Native American Studies Department at the University of Montana, fills the leadership gap created by the retirement of Dr. Pewewardy.  Prior to his time at the University of Montana, Dr. Van Alst was an assistant dean and director of the Native American Cultural Center at Yale University, where he directed programs and provided oversight on special projects, including a tripling in Native undergraduate enrollment and nearly two million dollars in fundraising that led to the construction of a new center. 

A preeminent scholar in both Indigenous Studies and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, Dr. Van Alst has authored or coauthored several peer-reviewed journal articles, including “Ridiculous Flix: Buckskin, Boycotts, and Busted Hollywood Narratives,” which appeared in the prestigious Great Plains Quarterly (University of Nebraska) in 2015.  This year, the State University of New York will publish his single-author book, Spaghetti and Sauerkraut with a Side of Frybread.  He has organized or participated in dozens of refereed panels at academic conferences and symposia.  He has been an invited lecturer at numerous institutions here in the U.S., including Columbia University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts, and Yale.  Internationally, he has lectured in Canada, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.  As important, however, Ted Van Alst is grounded soul who embraces the spirit of the collective.

Dr. Van Alst will have the primary responsibility of building the new major along with other INST faculty, staff and dedicated students.  The task ahead will be fraught with challenges, not the least of which is the ongoing absence of equitable resources.  This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Portland State is resource-challenged vis-à-vis  other institutions in the region.  The University of Washington boasts an endowment of over three billion—yes, billion—dollars.  The University of Oregon has an endowment of over eight hundred million dollars.  Oregon State University “lags behind” with an endowment of five hundred-fifty million dollars.  Why is this significant?  Oregon State’s endowment is ten times bigger than PSU’s!

Yet, despite this glaring discrepancy in terms of overall institutional resources, Portland State, and not UO or OSU, will launch the first undergraduate major in Indigenous Nations Studies in the state.  There is a tradition of activism and commitment to decolonized ways of thinking and being—one seen so clearly in both the above-ground and behind-the-scenes work of United Indigenous Students in Higher Education (UISHE) this past academic year—that is decades old.  It is a tributary tradition that flows from the larger river of sacrifice and struggle on the part of the Multnomah and Clackamas Peoples whom Dr. Pewewardy has always steadfastly acknowledged.

With new INST Director Ted Van Alst at the helm, and the support of Indigenous communities ever-present, the struggle to build the new major will ultimately be a victorious one.  Why?  Because INNAS majors and minors will accept no other outcome.  A final personal note: it has been an absolute honor and privilege to serve as interim director of Indigenous Nations Studies during the 2017-2018 academic year!

Winston Grady-Willis, Director
School of Gender, Race & Nations