Native American Studies, and language studies that coincide with it, are absent in many college course guides, including Baylor’s. Two universities currently include specific studies in Cherokee language and history: Northeastern State University offers Cherokee as a language course and Western Carolina University offers a minor in Cherokee Studies. It’s high time Baylor and other university systems start including Native American culture, language and history in their coursework.
According to fall 2018 Baylor Institutional Research and Testing data, 0.4% of undergraduates (54) identified as Alaskan Native/American Indian, but the report also says that 2.9% (411) who identified as multiracial listed Alaskan Native/American Indian as part of their heritage. This percentage, while small, is a significant student population which should not be ignored because their heritage is one that is often overlooked, and Native Americans are still marginalized in many communities today.
Research done by Minority Rights Now reported 1.77 million Native Americans in the United States at the time of the 2000 census. Among these 1.77 million people, 154 traditional Native American languages are spoken. Many of these languages are becoming lost languages, and the isolation of the Native American communities on colonist-appointed reservation land is a contributing factor in the loss of these languages. Native American culture is rarely taught in school, and many of us used textbooks that glazed over how the colonists massacred (or “relocated”) millions of Native Americans during the westward expansion movement. Similarly, many Americans tend to overgeneralize the cultures, histories and experiences of Native Americans.
Baylor has an opportunity to take a stand against the marginalization of Native Americans by celebrating their culture through academics. Not only would including accurate and all-encompassing Native American studies into a major curriculum broaden student’s cultural immersion at Baylor, it would also begin to correct some of the inaccuracies in the Native American narrative. Most importantly, if Baylor offered courses specifically catering to Native American languages, like Cherokee, it could expand the foreign language department’s curriculum. Cherokee as a foreign language would also provide further opportunity for students to connect with a culture while also learning new skills. This inclusivity regarding languages is majorly lacking at many universities, and Baylor can be at the forefront of inclusivity by offering Cherokee as a foreign language.
One Baylor professor has already taken the Native American culture on as part of her curriculum. Dr. Julie Sweet is a history professor who integrates an entire unit on Native American history into her course. If Baylor could extend what Sweet is already doing and curate an entire major or minor with a Native American focus, it would genuinely make a difference in the visibility of Native American issues today and change students’ perspectives on the topic.
Native American politics and social issues have taken a backseat in the local political climate, with a few notable exceptions: the Standing Rock protests and Elizabeth Warren’s claims of Native American heritage. Both of these issues revolved around the exploitation of Native American culture, land or resources for the benefit of white men and women, a conversation that, for the most part, has not changed since the colonization of America.
Baylor prides itself on being a top-level research institution, and part of being a leader in academics means pushing the boundaries of what is represented in school curriculum. Becoming more inclusive toward the Native American population and offering courses such as Cherokee as a foreign language, or even Native American Studies as a major or minor would help bring inclusivity and connect the Baylor population with a culture they may not know much about.