Alumni to Join Celebration of 40 Years of Native American Studies

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As part of the ongoing celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Native American Studies (NAS) program at Dartmouth, four Native American alumni will participate in a February 5 roundtable discussion, “Origin Stories: Native Alumni Reflections on the Founding of Dartmouth’s Native American Studies Program.”

The panelists will include Howard Bad Hand ’73 (Rosebud Lakota); Michael Hanitchak ’73 (Choctaw); David Bonga ’74 (Chippewa); and Drew Ryce ’74 (Mohawk). The event, which is open to the public, will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Haldeman, room 41.

40th anniversary of the Native American Studies (NAS) program at Dartmouth

Howard Bad Hand ’73, far right, is one of four alumni who will participate in a roundtable discussion to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Native American Studies (NAS) program at Dartmouth. To his left is then-Dartmouth President John Kemeny, who helped establish the NAS program in 1972. This 1971 photo also includes from, left, former head of the Native American Program John Olguin and Bruce Oakes ’74. (Courtesy of Rauner Special Collections Library)

“This roundtable program provides an important opportunity to hear from the ‘founding generation’ of Native students at Dartmouth whose activism in the early 1970s helped give life to an academic program in Native American Studies,” says N. Bruce Duthu ’80, the Samson Occom Professor of Native American Studies and chair of the NAS program. “In the years since our founding, thousands of Dartmouth students—Native and non-Native—have benefited from this program as enrolled students or as interns and researchers in NAS-sponsored off-campus activities, many of whom have gone on to work in Indian country in service of tribal peoples and communities.”

Duthu is an enrolled member of the United Houma Nation of Louisiana, and earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and a certificate in Native American Studies from Dartmouth. He notes that when NAS was first established, “there were only three or four courses” and the program’s founding director, the late Professor Michael Dorris, held a joint appointment in NAS and anthropology.

“We’ve seen enormous changes over the past 40 years,” says Duthu. “Now we have eight regular faculty members, five of whom are tenured, and two hold endowed professorships (Duthu and Colin Calloway, who is the John Kimball Jr. 1943 Professor of History and Native American Studies). Four of our faculty members hold joint appointments with other departments or programs, including history, anthropology, government, and environmental studies, and we began offering NAS majors and minors during the mid-1990s. Our courses are often over-subscribed and annual enrollments over the past few years have regularly exceeded 600 students.”

Bonga, who is a tribal attorney and planner for the Kalispel Tribe in eastern Washington, was one of nearly 20 Native American students who, in the spring of 1971, lobbied then-President John Kemeny to create the Native American Studies program and remove the Indian symbol as the school mascot, among other requests to help improve educational opportunities and campus life for Native students. The following year, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to establish the NAS program, in part as a reaffirmation of the Dartmouth’s historical commitment to the education of Native American students.

“That meeting with President Kemeny when all (15) of the Native freshmen students and four upperclassmen came together to present our suggestions so that the Dartmouth Native Program could become a useful and viable education opportunity for Native students was my proudest moment on campus,” says Bonga, who was the first Native alumnus to serve as a director of the Native American Program (NAP) in the mid-1970s.

Hanitchak has witnessed the program’s growth for most of its 40 years, first as an undergraduate, then as Dartmouth’s first Native American admissions officer in the 1970s, then teaching in the Department of Film and Media Studies, and finally as director of the NAP from 1995 through 2008. “I have been privileged to see the beginning of the NAP and NAS and be part of the matured product of those beginning experiments. I say ‘experiments’ because we were really inventing the wheel in those days,” says Hanitchak, who still lives in the Upper Valley.

Michael Hanitchak

Michael Hanitchak ’73, a former director of the Native American Program, will participate in the February 5 roundtable discussion. (Courtesy of Rauner Special Collections Library)

“Nothing like NAP or NAS existed at any institution like Dartmouth and the road to our present success was, indeed, a bumpy one,” Hanitchak says. “Though Dartmouth may not have done much of what we asked, or as fast as we would have liked, Dartmouth did stick by the commitment to the idea of making good on her founding purpose to educate Native American youth, and that has made all the difference.”

The 40th anniversary celebration of NAS was launched with a symposium in September featuring two noted legal scholars, James Tully and Val Napolean, and Yale historian Ned Blackhawk. In early April, NAS will host a symposium on contemporary Native American literature and writers that will feature presentations by Linda Hogan, David Treuer, and Stephen Graham Jones. And finally, an exhibit about the founding of NAS will hang in the “brickway” corridor connecting Baker and Berry libraries from late April to early June. Duthu says, “The President’s Office has been actively involved in supporting all of our planning efforts and assisting with some of the funding of our events, for which we are very grateful.”