Students Study Native Americans Through Interdisciplinary Focus

Although the students in Anthropology 199a: "Nation Building I," are in the business of learning how to be tribal leaders and how to lead Native American communities into the 21st century, the class itself is a tribe without a chief.

The course, offered for the first time this year, came out of the Interfaculty Initiatives program as an unprecedented collaboration of a smorgasbord of departments and graduate schools.

Although the three main lecturers hail from the Law School, the Kennedy School of Government and the Anthropology Department, guest speakers range from Literature chair Barbara Johnson to local Native American leaders.

The problem of the future of Native Americans deserves such a far-flung approach, according to Nation Building lecturer William F. Nash, Bowditch professor of Central American and Mexican ethnology.

Fash was part of group of "concerned citizens," many from the Harvard Native American Program, who lobbied for and formed this interdisciplinary class devoted to Native Americans in the next century.


"We realized last year that approaches from different angles would be best to come up with solutions," Fash says.

Head TF Darren Ranco, a member of the Penobscot tribe and a fourth-year graduate student in social anthropology, says that the topic of the class can only be taught with an interdisciplinary approach.

"When you're thinking about the problems Native American tribes face, there is not just sort of one approach you can take," he says. "It demands a multiplicity of approaches."

The course attracted 17 graduate students and 29 undergraduates, about 25 percent of whom are of Native American descent.

Some, like Amanda S. Proctor '97-'98, say they have very practical reasons for taking the class.

"I come from the second-poorest reservation in the country," Proctor says. "There is no work, and you have to travel 15 miles to buy a coke. This is my reality. I want to know how to get the highway widened, how to get quality doctors and how to attract the business community. The problems are so multi-faceted."

The result of this student, faculty and administrative interest is an unprecedented "whirlwind tour" through the background of Native American societies and the approaches to solve the problems they will face in the future, according to Fash.

The three main professors deal specifically with government, law and anthropology, but guest speakers often tackle other approaches.

A routine class often includes several professors, TFs, guest speakers, and students scurrying up to the podium in Emerson 108 to share their knowledge on whatever topic has come up. Informal discussion is common, and rarely does everyone stick to one discipline on a given day.

The students first examine the major issues Native American societies must deal with and then read case studies to help formulate solutions for the future.

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