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OU's Native American studies department expands, adds three new faculty members

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Native American Studies Department

The Native American studies department office in Copeland Hall May 3. 

The Native American studies department will double its number of tenured and tenure-track faculty as part of its ongoing expansion and growth efforts. 

The department recently hired three new professors to teach in the areas of tribal sovereignty, indigenous environmental studies and Native American language revitalization, said Amanda Cobb-Greetham, a Chickasaw woman and director of Native American studies at OU. 

“This resurgence is due to the long-time work of students and faculty and staff on campus,” Cobb-Greetham said.

The department has been growing since 2015, when the program was elevated to department-level status, eliciting the need for more faculty, staff and resources, Cobb-Greetham said.

“If we’re going to be the leading Native American studies department in the country, and we are poised to do so, we have to invest in faculty,” Cobb-Greetham said.

OU tribal liaison Warren Queton said this cluster hire is particularly significant during a time of budget insecurity. 

“It’s important to note that this is in a year where the university is facing budget issues, the whole state is facing budget issues, but the university has made a commitment to diversity and inclusion and that flows over into our faculty and staff," Queton said.

Cobb-Greetham said the cluster hire will allow the department to offer a larger number and greater variety of classes to all students.

“They will be able to go deeper into more specific subject matter,” Cobb-Greetham said. “Do we have classes on tribal governance now? Absolutely. But now we can go deeper, we can increase our students’ ability to work on research with other faculty members.”

Cobb-Greetham said the faculty members were selected to fit the recently adapted curriculum that includes three areas of interest.

Gina Stuart-Richard, Mississippi Choctaw, will join the faculty in August 2017 as an assistant professor specializing in indigenous environmental and community sustainability studies. 

“I think everyone's familiar this year with the extent to which water and oil and gas and pipelines have all become critical issues, and this provides us with a way to have those very real and complicated conversations,” Cobb-Greetham said, referring to the Dakota Access pipeline and other similar situations.

In addition, Raina Heaton, who is not Native American, will begin at OU in August 2017 as an assistant professor of native languages and assistant curator of the Native American Language Archives of the Sam Noble Museum. 

“A lot of tribes have already lost their speakers, so I think that Dr. Heaton coming in, she’s going to be able to help our tribes revitalize and come up with new ways of generating new speakers,” Queton said.

The third hire is Raymond Orr, Citizen Potawatomi, who will begin in January 2018 as an associate professor focusing on tribal sovereignty, governance and policy, Cobb-Greetham said.

“A lot of people don’t know the first thing about tribal sovereignty,” Queton said. “This generation of students, we want to educate them to be useful tribal citizens. ... As tribal citizens, they need to be able to understand what tribal sovereignty is and where it's going to carry us in the future.”

Rance Weryackwe, a Comanche Native American studies graduate student, said he thinks the new faculty members will benefit students in the department by adding to research opportunities. 

“A lot of times there's not been much research that's been done on our communities, so therefore that information is not out there,” Weryackwe said. “We have people that are doing research that can start setting a foundation for knowledge.”

Cobb-Greetham said she thinks it is critical to have a strong Native American studies department at OU due to the impact and long history of Native American culture in the state.

“Tribal nations are not just part of the history of our state, but part of its present, and a critical part of the state’s future,” Cobb-Greetham said. “It is something that students who go to school here and who make their lives here need to understand.”

This story was updated at 4:01 p.m. May 5 to correct the spelling of Gina Stuart-Richard's name.

Anna Bauman is an English senior and the Daily's news managing editor who has previously worked as assistant news managing editor, news editor and news reporter.

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