Welcome to the Department of Native American Studies

Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma

Since 1994, a vibrant and growing Native American Studies program has attracted and served students of diverse backgrounds and academic interests who are committed to using distinctly Native American perspectives to place the sovereignty of Native nations and the cultures of Native peoples at the center of academic study.  The Native American Studies curriculum currently supports intensive study in three interrelated areas of emphasis that are synthetic and interdisciplinary in nature:  Tribal Governance and Policy; Indigenous Media and Arts; and Language, History, and Cultural Knowledges.  The curriculum is, at the same time, focused and flexible.  Students are encouraged to combine areas of emphasis according to their own scholarly and professional goals.  BA and MA degrees are awarded through Native American Studies.  In addition, students may pursue a joint MA/JD in Native American Studies and Law as well as a graduate certificate in American Indian Social Work.  In the past twenty years, Native American Studies has awarded over 200 degrees; NAS alumni have distinguished themselves in a wide range of careers some of which include: tribal government, law, health policy, filmmaking and media, historic preservation, language revitalization, an education. In 2015, Native American Studies was elevated from a program to a fully-fledged department.

About The University of Oklahoma

The University of Oklahoma located 20 miles south of Oklahoma City in Norman, is the flagship comprehensive university in the state.  Oklahoma is home to 39 tribal nations, each of which has a distinctive culture, history, and government.  OU is ideally situated to serve the educational needs of Native and non-Native students, providing a place for students to deepen their understanding of the unique political status of tribes and to examine the contemporary tribal issues, as well as tribal cultures and histories.  OU is home to many significant Native resources including the Western History Collection, the Fred Jones Art Museum, the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, the OU College of Law and American Indian Law Review, the Native American Language Program, the American Indian Institute, and the Jacobson House Art Center.



Star Quilt as Symbol and Vision

Native American quilts are a powerful example of the ways that Native peoples have taken practices of cultural dispossession (quilting in Indian boarding schools) and turned them into practices of cultural sovereignty. The star quilt, historically associated with the Sioux, has become a Pan-Indian symbol.  It can be used as a gift of honor, an object of art and beauty, or a practical item of warmth and comfort.  Like the star quilt referenced here, Native American Studies at OU will be pieced together by many hands; will be used by many for many purposes; will be vibrant, diverse, and complex; and will be symbolic of cultural tradition, cultural change, and cultural sovereignty.



The History of Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma

The roots of Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma reach back to the earliest days of the institution.  As early as 1915, American Indian students called for the creation of a museum focused on American Indian histories and cultures on OU’s campus.  The students’ idea of a dedicated physical space took hold, and in the 1920s and 1930s, OU Press Editor Joseph Brandt and OU President William Bizzell sought to construct an American Indian institute at OU.  They envisioned a place that would house classroom space for university courses focusing on American Indian topics and in which the university could host regular conferences focusing on contemporary American Indian policy and socioeconomic concerns.  Although the vision for a campus building has not yet been realized, three new courses were inaugurated in the early 1930s, making OU one of the first colleges to make American Indian subject matter a curricular focus.

Through the decades to follow, OU continued to nurture its institutional resources focused on Native Americans, which efforts have resulted in the addition of significant special collections, numerous faculty members, and enhanced curricular offerings.  As well, the seeds planted by OU’s Indian students so many years before continued to grow, and in 1994, in response to the continued activism by OU’s Native students and community, the Native American Studies program officially became a degree-granting unit.  In 2015, President David Boren elevated Native American Studies to a full-fledged department and, continuing President Bizzell’s legacy, established a Native Nations Center for research at OU.