Native Peoples, Native Politics conference in 2016.
(photo by Hayoung Hwang)
Harvard's first-ever tenured professor in Native American studies,
History professor Philip J. Deloria, began teaching last month,
after years of activists calling for Native American studies offerings.
Deloria's appointment is the culmination of an
effort by the Harvard University Native American Program that
has been going on "since the mid-2000s," according to Executive
Director Shelly C. Lowe. Deloria, who is Native American himself,
has been working with HUNAP, the University's main organization
for Native American students and faculty, since 2004.
"Phil Deloria is the leadingI was gonna say one of the
leading, but he's really the best historian of Native Americans
active today," History Department Chair Daniel L. Smail. "We were
just really lucky."
Deloria has been at the University of Michigan's American Studies
department since 2001, but said he is excited to join the "really
smart, excellent people" in Harvard's History department.
"Internally, in terms of Harvard, there's so many great things
happening here. The museums, the libraries, the resources are tremendous
for the study of Native Americans and Native American history,"
"To the extent that I can jump into a conversation and advance
that conversation, make things more legible and coherent as far
as the field, that would be great," he added.
This semester, Deloria is teaching a graduate seminar on the
historiography of Native American and Indigenous Studies, and next
semester he will teach an introduction to Native American Studies
course primarily for undergraduates.
Deloria, Smail and Lowe all said Deloria's full professorship
is a significant step for Harvard's Native American curriculum.
"Having a full professor here will legitimize Native American
studies coursework here in a way that assistant professors just
couldn't," Lowe said.
Truman M. Burrage, president of Native Americans of Harvard
College, called Professor Deloria's appointment "incredible," but
also "way overdue."
Harvard has a long history with Native Americans on its campus.
The original Harvard Charter dedicates the school to "the education
of the English and Indian youth."
"Since 1656, there's been Native American presence on Harvard's
campus," Burrage said. "But the problem was that after a while it
went very dormant, and Harvard became a place for upper class white
males to go to school. It took until the 1970s before that was brought
Lowe said that Deloria's professorship should be a first step
toward a larger Native American studies faculty.
"[Deloria's appointment] gives the sense that this work can
be done at Harvard, it is being done at Harvard," Lowe said. "But
this can't be the end. Harvard needs to hire additional faculty."
Deloria and Burrage both pointed to Native American languages
as another place where Harvard still needs improvement.
"Within our community," Burrage said, "We feel that if you learn
a native language, that should count for the language requirement,
but there's no test. And Harvard's big thing is that you have to
get someone who can administer the test on campus, so that's a big
obstacle in the way."
Despite the need for further work, Deloria said he is optimistic.
"There's no institution that has any kind of clean history with
Native America, but that doesn't mean that institutions aren't capable
of redemption. To me, it seems like there's a lot of people at Harvard
who are thinking about this and thinking about it in a good way,
and that's the first step." Deloria said.
"Can any institution ever fully redeem its history?" he added.
"No, it just can'tit doesn't happen that way. But it's better
to be trying than not to."