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Native American Studies - Overview


Programs in Native American studies teach about the first peoples of the United States and Canada. Students learn the history and culture of different American Indian tribes. They also study the culture of indigenous peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the Cherokee tribe, there is a prayer that translates as, "O Great Spirit, grant that I may never find fault with my neighbor until I have walked the trail of life in his moccasins."

Native American studies began at the end of the 1960s. Before that time, people generally believed that Native Americans should change their ways of life to fit "standard American culture." But the 1960s was a time of civil rights movements. And many colleges and universities recognized that the culture of indigenous peoples should not be erased by assimilation. Instead, they wanted to study, understand, and respect it.

Native American studies, then, is an academic effort to "walk the trail of life" in the moccasins of the peoples who settled in the U.S. long before Christopher Columbus did.

In this program, you take courses that survey indigenous people in the world, particularly in North America. You study their histories, languages, and cultures. In order to do this, you learn effective research methodologies and ways to interpret art, literature, and other sources of information. You also examine the way dominant cultures in the United States have treated Native Americans by analyzing laws, treaties, and public policies.

A background in Native American studies prepares you for a career involved in both preserving and developing Native American communities and their cultures. You could work in tribal administration and education. You could work in a government agency helping to design public policies. You could also work in museums and cultural centers, showcasing indigenous cultural artifacts.

About 60 colleges and universities offer programs in Native American studies. You can earn an associate, a bachelor's, a master's, or a doctoral degree in this program. You can also sometimes earn an undergraduate or graduate certificate while completing the curriculum for another program of study.

After high school, an associate degree typically takes about two years of full-time study and a bachelor's degree about four. After a bachelor's degree, a master's degree usually takes about one to two additional years. And after a master's degree, a doctoral degree generally takes between four and five years.

In this program of study, you may be able to choose a concentration such as one of the following:

• Indigenous Nations Studies
• Linguistics and Language Teaching
• Museum Studies
• Sovereignty Development

Source: Illinois Career Information System (CIS) brought to you by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
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