New Minor, Major Impact

The new minor, tribal and indigenous peoples studies, has been approved to be added to North Dakota State’s list of minors.

The minor is different from a native people’s minor because it takes a global look at indigenous peoples, according to Michael Yellow Bird, the director of tribal and indigenous peoples studies program.

The coursework focuses on looking at problems indigenous people face and their ways of life regarding topics from sustainability to climate change.

A big topic within the structure of the minor is talking about war. “We learn about war and about health and those kinds of things because they’re not only people who have experienced a lot of invasion, but they are people that have been ravished by different kinds of diseases and illnesses from a colonizing nation,” Yellow Bird said.

Because of their perspective of colonialism, and because they’ve experienced it worldwide, indigenous peoples’ perspective is unique. They also have experience with mass fatalities at the expense of illness, which may give valuable insight into epidemics today’s world faces, or give students a deeper understanding of the harm colonists inadvertently caused.

“We look at different kinds of indigenous people, people who live in urban areas, those who have been displaced by colonialism, some people have moved to urban areas and we’ll look at hunter-gatherer peoples, agrarian cultures, that sort of thing,” Yellow Bird said.

Not all peoples are alike, which is a common misconception in the global society today. This minor hopes to engage students to push past those preconceptions of who indigenous people are, and highlight the differences between tribal people and indigenous people.

Tribal people differ from indigenous people, although they do share a number of cultural values. Indigenous people have lived in a geographic location for a long period of time and have a deep-rooted connection to the land through generations. Tribal people don’t necessarily have that; they move across lands and borders and, according to Yellow Bird, “They’re more nomadic or pastoral peoples.”

Yellow Bird believes that this new minor is important because of the lack of exposure many people have to indigenous peoples across the globe.

“Programs that exist at some of the major universities are Native American programs, African-American programs, ┬áLatino American programs, but there are very few tribal and indigenous peoples studies programs that take a global look at the world,” Yellow Bird said. “That’s important because, whether we believe it or not, we’re global citizens. We do the commerce, trade and illness we pick up is transmitted globally. We need to come to understand the planet we live on and all the people living here.”

Not only does the program take a look at indigenous people globally, it also has a regional part to the program where students can learn about indigenous people in their local area and get to know regional tribes. This is helpful for any student planning to work with a specific tribe in any area, whether it be public health, engineering, youth programming or any other job a student wants to bring to the tribal community.

What’s really important to Yellow Bird is that students get to understand the nature of indigenous culture and come to understand what kind of contributions they’ve made to the human population.

The university benefits because it adds to their credibility as a land grant university, whose mission is to provide education to everybody. This minor may draw in students of indigenous, tribal or Native American descent that may have otherwise chosen a different university.

Not only does it help NDSU, but it helps students fulfill their diversity and global course requirements.

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