The Institute of Native American Studies prides itself on being a place where cutting-edge ideas in Native American Studies (NAS) are discussed first. We, however, also take pride in our scholarship of engagement.
What is the scholarship of engagement? All NAS scholarship must be undertaken not only with a responsibility to the truth but also with a responsibility to the peoples and community one studies. The scholarship of engagement is something different. It is sometimes called community-engaged scholarship or community-driven scholarship. It involves work on projects that the community or tribal nation has identified as something that needs doing and which benefits the community directly. At every step the scholar works closely with the community.
INAS has engaged—and continues to engage—in numerous community-driven research projects.
Robert Hill, one of our faculty, now an emeritus professor of adult education, is a potter by avocation. With resources from both INAS and the Navajo Nation, Dr. Hill organized and facilitated a workshop at the Navajo Nation Museum. The event brought together three master Navajo potters to teach the next generation. Organizers had planned for eight students, but sixteen showed up! Fearing there would not be enough clay, the museum officials ask if they should ask those not registered to just watch. Dr. Hill replied, “No, we’ll just make smaller pots.” After the workshop, the works of the apprentices was displayed in the museum alongside those of the masters. The exhibit then traveled to the chapter houses around the Navajo Nation. As a result of the success of the program, Dr. Hill was asked to meet with Haudenosaunee elders to discuss implementing a similar project for Haudenosaunee pottery.
Many of our projects have been with the Cherokee Nation and the Cherokee National Historical Society, which manages the Cherokee National Museum (also known as the Cherokee Heritage Center).
At the request of the Nation and the CHC, an INAS-led team designed an historical recreation of a 1710 Cherokee town on the grounds of the CHC. Principal design work was down by INAS faculty member Alfie Vick, a landscape architect and ethnobotanist. Jace Weaver, INAS Director, and Dr. Brett Riggs, then of the University of North Carolina, also worked on the project. Diligwa opened in June 2013. In 2024, the design team was awarded the prestigious Sevenstar Award for preserving and promoting Cherokee history and culture by the Cherokee National Historical Society.
At the request of the CHC, an INAS and Cherokee Nation team, led by Dr. Ervan Garrison, used non-invasive archaeological techniques pioneered by Dr. Garrison, to locate the footprint of the original Cherokee National Female Seminary (burned in 1887) on the grounds of the CHC. Team members also located the building plans for the structure, long thought lost, and solved other mysteries surrounding the school, which was the first institution of higher learning for women west of the Mississippi. Our work led to an award-winning exhibition on the Seminary at the Cherokee National Museum, which Jace Weaver co-curated. Dr. Weaver also helped design a permanent installation to mark the footprint of the school. We also surveyed the site of the Cherokee National Male Seminary, burned in 1910, and located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation.
Most recently, the Cherokee Nation request our help in surveying the site of Rose Cottage, Principal Chief John Ross’s home, burned by Stand Watie during the American Civil War. The team, once again led by Dr. Garrison, found the foundation of the house. At the same time, the Nation requested we attempt to locate a nearby lost cemetery, believed to be the oldest in Park Hill, Oklahoma in the Cherokee Nation. Using the same techniques used on the two seminary sites, the INAS and Cherokee Nation team successfully found the graveyard.
In 2013, noted Muscogee photorealist painter Bobby Martin came for a visit. While he was in town, we took him to see Lyndon House Art Center, Athens’ municipal museum and gallery. He was so impressed by the space that soon after his departure Martin and Seminole/Sac and Fox artist Tony Tiger contacted Dr. Weaver on behalf of the Southeastern Indian Artists Association, asking whether INAS would be interested in collaborating on an exhibition of Southeastern Native art at Lyndon House. Thus began a four year partnership with SEIAA on the first major traveling exhibitions of Southeastern Native art ever. “Return from Exile: Contemporary Southeastern Indian Art” brought together more than fifty works by over thirty artists. Co-curated by Martin, Tiger, and Weaver, the exhibit opened at Lyndon House on August 22, 2015. INAS brought ten of the participating artists to Athens, along with Heather Ahtone, curator of Native American art of the Fred Jones Museum at the University of Oklahoma, and J. William Wiggins, noted collector of contemporary Native art, for a day-long symposium at Lyndon House. Midway through the run, INAS also sponsored a screening of Muscogee/Seminole filmmaker Sterlin Harjo’s documentary This May Be the Last Time at the gallery with the director present to discuss his work. Since closing at Lyndon House, “Return from Exile” has traveled to venues in Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and throughout Oklahoma, and it will continue to travel through 2017. A full-color catalogue, containing every piece in the exhibition, was also produced.
INAS is always looking for community organizations, tribal nations, or other academic institutions to partner with. Dr. Weaver was president of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (2015-2017). He dedicated his presidency to the scholarship of engagement. Among the initiatives he promoted was the creation of a network of schools and scholars who do community-engaged scholarship. If you are interested in partnering with INAS or in being a part of this network, contact Jace Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org.