Spotlight:Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI)

This month we spotlight the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI)
February 8, 2023

“How can academics, administrators and neighbors contribute to the well-being of tribal people?”  To Rae Gould, PhD (Nipmuc), the executive director of Brown University's Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI), the answer lies in relationship building. “Building these relationships takes time, often years,” Gould emphasizes, “and an investment of resources. We won't know what these resources are until we ask the right questions and invest the time to know how we can best support tribal partners.” Born from many years of activism by students, faculty and staff, NAISI is a cross-disciplinary initiative that supports relationship- and community-building, as well as teaching, research, and institutional change efforts related to the cultural traditions, histories, and knowledge of Native American and Indigenous peoples.  


NAISI-affiliated faculty and students are involved in a growing number of courses, research and community engagement projects, and in the coming months, NAISI will announce a new Faculty Director and launch the undergraduate concentration in Critical Native American and Indigenous Studies. Developed with significant funding from the Mellon Foundation, the concentration “aims to move students, faculty and researchers toward learning how to center Native American and Indigenous peoples, knowledge, perspectives and cultures while simultaneously engaging in the constructive critique of Native American and Indigenous studies to further its development in the academy and as a mechanism to respond to the needs of Native and Indigenous peoples.” The curriculum will incorporate Community-Based Participatory Research methods and experiential learning in order to advance both student development and community benefit.


NAISI actively supports colleagues across campus as they engage in (and think about how to engage in) outreach with tribes from the region and beyond. In addition to participating in the Land Acknowledgment Working Group formed by President Paxson in 2021, NAISI will contribute to follow-up on the resulting institutional commitments. For interested faculty, Dr. Gould suggests offering courses that highlight Native and Indigenous voices, as well as inviting speakers to come to campus. Michael Yellow Bird will visit Brown this semester, for example, at the invitation of Jeffrey Proulx; Yellow Bird “work[s] with Tribal and Indigenous peoples to bring mindfulness and neurodecolonizaton approaches to these communities for the purposes of healing and improving wellness.” NAISI Tribal Community Member in Residence endawnis Spears (Diné/Ojibwe/Chickasaw/Choctaw) also offers workshops for departments on effective approaches to supporting Native and Indigenous students and collaborating with tribal communities, grounded in enhanced understanding of the political context, cultural and historical issues, and appropriate terminology. 


Across these various activities, sustained engagement is essential, along with humility and dedication to "scholarship serving Indigenous peoples," said Dr. Gould.