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Why American Indian Studies

Today, Morris’s unique western Minnesota location provides a valuable educational experience; close in proximity to several distinct American Indian communities throughout North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Every Morris student benefits from learning about the social, cultural, historical, legal, and political relationships between federal, Tribal, and state governments. Morris now supports one of the largest Native student populations of any public liberal arts universities in the United States. In total Native American students represent 15% of the total Morris student body.

To fulfill the major in American Indian studies, students take six required courses as well as the final capstone course, where students work closely with their faculty advisor to plan, develop, execute and present an independent research project. The required courses come from the American Indian Studies catalogue, as well as the Anthropology, Sociology, English, and History Disciplines.

In addition, majors typically take eight credits from a selection of courses with primarily American Indian Studies content. These can include American Indigenous language courses–such as Anishinaabe or Dakota–which American Indian Studies students are especially encouraged to take. They also take four credits from a selection of courses with related content, such as Multicultural Psychology or Sociology of Gender and Sexuality.

History and Mission of American Indian Studies at Morris

Morris’s history started in 1887 when the Bureau of Catholic Indian Mission with the Sisters of Mercy opened the Morris American Indian Boarding School. The Boarding School was Directed by Mother Mary Joseph Lynch who recruited students from Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe in North Dakota to the nearby Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and Rosebud Reservations in South Dakota. By 1896, the school’s contract ended with the federal government and reopened the following year as the Morris Industrial School for American Indians. Under Superintendent William Johnson’s direction the school went through a construction boom—today, only the former Boy’s Dormitory remains on our campus. Under the direction of John B. Brown, the Morris Indian School experienced a slight educational revival and its Championship baseball team produced a number of professional players. In 1909, the Morris Indian School was transferred by the federal government to the state of Minnesota under the sole condition that American Indian Students, “shall at all times be admitted to such school free of charge for tuition and on terms of equality with white pupils.” It is official University of Minnesota policy to honor this federal/state agreement by providing all American Indian students, who are officially admitted to Morris, free tuition.

Beginning in 1985 an occasional student completed an area of concentration in American Indian Studies with Historian Wilbert “Bert” Ahern and Anthropologist Dennis Templeman. The true turning point occurred with two additional tenure-track hires Julie Pelletier in anthropology and Becca Gercken in English. By 2003, Bert Ahern, Julie Pelletier, and Becca Gercken authored the formal proposal for a major in American Indian Studies which was officially approved by 2006–07. In 2010, Bert Ahern after forty-years of service at Morris retired and Julie Pelletier took a position with another university. That same year, Morris hired Assistant Professor of History and American Indian Studies, Kent Blansett and part-time Anishinaabeg language Instructor Gabe Desrosiers. A relatively new and transitional program, it has emerged as one of the most innovative and fastest growing disciplines at Morris .