Within 10 years from Native American Cultural Center (NACC) opened its doors on the High Street in 2013, the number of courses in Indigenous studies has increased significantly. Next fall, for the first time ever, students will be credited towards Yale College’s language requirements while studying a Native American language—in this case, Cherokee.
These advances are a testament to Yale’s supportive community that has embraced and welcomed Indigenous students and fellows, said NACC Director Matthew Makomenaw at the recent NACC 10th Anniversary Celebration of the 26 High St.
The event – which also celebrated the recent publication of books by Yale faculty members Ned Blackhawk (Nevada’s Western Shoshone Te-Moak tribe) and Hi’ilei Hobart (Kanaka Maoli) – was the first in a full program of events planned for 2023 to celebrate anniversary of NACC’s High Street location. In November, the celebrations will continue with an archival exhibition showcasing the history of the Indigenous student community, an Indigenous Fall Feast and the Henry Roe Cloud Conference. The conference celebrates Indigenous excellence at Yale and honors the first Indigenous graduate of Yale College (1910) who became a national advocate for Indigenous people.
Blackhawk dedicated his new book, The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and The Unmaking of US History, in part to the NACC, where he taught classes, led Yale Events and Action Group meetings over the past decade.
“The history of NACC and its community—current and former students—was etched into me as a teacher and ultimately as a researcher,” said Blackhawk, Howard R. Lamar Professor of History and American Studies at Yale University’s Department of Arts and Sciences, in a recent interview with Yale News.
President Peter Salovey noted that Blackhawk’s book, published by Yale University Press in late April, has already garnered much attention nationwide, being featured on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, as well as in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, and other major news sites. Hobart’s 2022 book “Cooling the Tropics: Ice, Indigeneity, and Hawaiian Refreshment” (Duke University Press) is a social history of ice that explores how ice and cooling affected tropical islands, exploring the broader themes of dispossession of native Hawaiians , settler colonialism, American imperialism and racism. The book received the Scholars of Color First Book Award from Duke University Press and the 2023 Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) First Book Award.
Hobart, an assistant professor of indigenous and indigenous studies at FAS who joined the faculty in 2022, is one of two new faculty members specializing in indigenous studies. Tarren Andrews (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), now a postdoctoral fellow at Yale, will join the Ethnicity, Race and Migration program as an assistant professor on July 1.
Hobart said that in addition to releasing the book, the past year has also brought her “little joys” such as watching the repatriation of Native Hawaiian ancestral remains from the Yale Peabody Museum to Hawaii, co-hosting an indigenous feast, and teaching a course on Yale Farm. Last summer, she was a guest on Salovey’s podcast series “Yale talk” to discuss sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty.
At a recent ceremony, Salovey recounted how 30 years ago Yale dedicated a small space for indigenous students on Crown Street in what was then the Yale Chicano Cultural Center. Members of the Yale Native American Association—the first official group dedicated to Yale students, also founded 30 years ago—later advocated their own space, and in the mid-2000s, when Salovey was dean of Yale College, helped secure High 26 for the new center. According to Blackhawk, Yale is one of the few universities to have given an entire building to its indigenous community.
Over the past decade, many native students have described NACC as their “home away from home”. A funded gift from the late Yale alumnus Fred C. Danforth ’73 supports the position of NACC director, and Danforth has also established a scholarship for a local student to attend Yale.
NACC’s “humble” headquarters ten years ago, said Salovey, “set the stage for creating an inclusive and supportive environment for Native Americans and Native Yale students, but it was also very welcoming to people who wanted to learn more about Native Americans and Native cultures “.
Today, the center is home to eight indigenous groups of undergraduate and graduate students and is a gathering place for both indigenous and non-indigenous students to share and celebrate diverse cultures and traditions. Some of Yale College’s 13 indigenous and indigenous topics are also held there. These courses range from an introduction to American Indian history to classes on Pacific race and indigenousness, Native American education policy, global Indigenous cultures, federal Indian law and politics, tribal history writing, and early indigenous printing practices.
In addition, the center hosts art exhibitions, musical performances and many other cultural events throughout the year.
Over the past decade, other campus developments to support student life and Indigenous scholarship include the establishment of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program, which promotes and cultivates Indigenous storytelling and performance, as well as scholarships and outreach, and the creation of a new position to oversee the collections Native Americans at the Yale Peabody Museum and Yale University Art Gallery. In June, scholar, artist and curator Royce Young Wolf will assume the inaugural positions of collection manager at the Peabody Museum and curator at the art gallery.
In 2015, the Yale Native American Language Program was created to allow Native students to learn some of their languages. The program offers thirteen different languages, mostly by native speakers in video chat.
Salovey said Yale will continue to support a campus environment where both Indigenous students and Indigenous scholarships thrive. Hobart quoted a Hawaiian proverb – which in English translates as “You can’t reach for the jackfruit when the stick is too short” – saying it was “recognition of the reward we can achieve together when we have the resources and support towards our goals.” .
Plans are currently underway to celebrate the Fall Semester of Native Achievements and NACC’s 10th year in its own building, Makomenaw said. He added that he is confident in the future of Yale’s native students and scientists: “We will grow no matter what comes our way because we have many people who care about our community.”