Portland State University students will have the option of majoring in Indigenous Nations and Native American Studies starting this fall, the first major of its kind in the state, according to the university.
The University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences announced the major Wednesday, calling it an effort "years in the making."
"It just is so important to finally recognize, intellectually, the bedrock significance of indigenous experiences," said Winston Grady-Willis, director of the School of Gender, Race and Nations. "Not only historically, not only in this ongoing effort to stave off genocide, but also contemporarily in terms of the complexities that comes with even beginning to have a sense of indigenous ways of knowing."
The university says the major aims to offer native and non-native students alike with opportunities to study the history, values and contemporary issues of Native peoples. The major will cover critical studies, tribal race theory, decolonizing methodologies and traditional and cultural ecological knowledge, among other topics.
PSU has offered a minor in Indigenous Nations Studies since 2002. The major was approved by the school's board of trustees in May and Oregon's Higher Education Coordination Commission in June. Approval from the board and the HECC were among the final hurdles in the major's approval process after the university's Faculty Senate approved the major in April.
The university spent the next few months developing the course catalog for the major. It also conducted a national search that culminated in the hiring of Ted Van Alst, the new director of the Indigenous Nations Studies program. Van Alst chaired University of Montana's Native American Studies department.
Efforts to establish the major were mostly driven by the retirement of former Indigenous Nations Studies program director Dr. Cornel Pewewardy, who retired in 2017.
"We really looked at this as a way to honor his dedication to the program and his legacy," said Josh Powell, program coordinator for PSU's Indigenous Nations Studies program, in a statement.
Grady-Willis says only two full time faculty have been assigned to the major so far, and that moving forward the goal will be to build up faculty resources to sustain the major.
"Nationally, in the fields of Africana or black studies, Chicano or Latino studies, Indigenous Nations or Native American studies, there have indeed been cases where programs or departments on paper have what seems to be an institutional commitment," he said, "But years down the line we see that these programs and departments begin to flounder."
The first graduates of the program could receive their degrees as early as spring or summer 2019, according to the university.