Pforzheimer House will, this fall, invite three visiting scholars to lead talks and excursions related to historical and contemporary Native American culture.
The program, called the Native American House Fellows program, rolls out at a time when some student advocates have sought to increase its limited offerings in Native American and Indigenous studies. When Harvard’s charter—which remains in effect today— was signed in 1650, the institution made a commitment to educate Native American students.
Shelly C. Lowe, executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program and a new House fellow, said she hopes to bring undergraduates to meet leaders of various Native communities in New England. But because there are few large reservations in the area, students may visit urban Native centers or the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal area in Cape Cod.
One of the new fellows, J. Cedric Woods, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the director of its Institute for New England Native American Studies, said he has worked with Lowe for seven years and that he looks forward to the residential nature of new House fellows program.
“From day one Shelly [Lowe] and I have been trying to figure out ways to build capacity related to Native American Indigenous studies and support for Native students and Native communities in the region,” he said.
Meredith Vasta, another fellow and the collections steward at the Peabody Museum, said she plans to engage informally with students in Pforzheimer. Because her job as collections steward primarily involves interacting with non-Harvard affiliates, she is looking forward to working with undergraduates.
“I also think it’s a nice opportunity to be able to share sort of what I do and the resources at the Peabody Museum for students,” she said. According to Vasta, half of the museum’s collection is from Native North America.
Lowe said that the residential aspect of the fellows program will allow students to learn about parts of Native culture that may not be discussed in an academic setting, such as traditional food and film. She emphasized her hope that students learn about modern Native life instead of solely placing it in a historical context.
“[I hope] to get students to understand that Natives are here, Natives are contemporary,” she said.
Although none of the fellows could verify that the fellowship program would continue beyond this year, Woods said he hopes that it can and that it inspires similar initiatives throughout Harvard.
“I think that this definitely demonstrates an interest on the part of the House as far as looking to connect and provide broader exposure to their students to Native peoples,” Woods said. “I hope that this inspires other people on campus to do similar type things.”
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