Father Cataldo wouldn’t be able to recognize Gonzaga of today from the small Native American school he founded more than 126 years ago. This year, GU is taking great strides to reconnect to this history and past mission with the recent formation of the Native American Studies minor.
Laurie Arnold became the head of the Native American Studies program last year. Arnold was previously head of Native American Initiatives at Notre Dame University. She has only been at GU for a month, but is working fervently to create a minor that can appeal to any student.
Arnold has been brainstorming and constructing Native American classes that will be offered to the class of 2017. The wide array of subjects for the classes includes Native American activism, Native Americans in sports, a Native American arts and performance class. On the third Wednesday of every month, the program invites students to a brown bag lunch from 12-1 p.m. to discuss topics in Native American culture, history and identity.
Since Native American month is next month, the Bulletin sat down with Arnold to discuss GU’s past, present and future plans to incorporate Native American Studies into the education of students.
Gonzaga Bulletin: What brought you to GU?
Laurie Arnold: I’m originally from this region and moved back just over a year ago. My parents live here and I just decided it was time to be close to home again. Just when I returned to Spokane I saw the job posting and applied. Now here I am.
GB: What inspired you to study Native American studies?
LA: I am a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes and I grew up on the reservation in Keller, Wash. I went to Wilbur High School. So it’s always been a part of my heritage and a part of my history. When I went to college, I discovered that it was an actual field of study and then I became interested in the intellectual side in addition to the heritage and life experience side.
GB: When was the Native American Studies minor created?
LA: The discussion of creating a Native American Studies minor or program has been going on for a long time, like 10 or 20 years. The minor, as it is now, was approved in 2010. Then if you look at the catalog there aren’t that many courses listed. They were waiting for a director to come and create the courses, which we are in the process of doing right now.
GB: What was the process for creating the minor?
LA: It involved a lot of people and it was very interdisciplinary. That committee involved people from history, English, biology and Raymond Reyes, who is the associate academic vice president and chief diversity officer. There’s also a tribal advisory board here at GU that’s comprised of members from four or five regional communities. They were involved through the Native American House, which is also called the Center for American Indian Studies. They all collaborated to create this minor and job position, and thinking about what kind of person they wanted for this role. GU was originally intended to educate Native Americans.
GB: How does this history affect the establishment and teaching of this minor?
LA: To me, I think this minor is a promise fulfilled. GU was first imagined as a place where Indian boys who were educated in their local missions could come to continue their education. And then, once the school was complete, it was rapidly absorbed into the non-Indian community and Indians were not allowed to attend. To me, this is GU coming full circle and connecting with its original mission to natives in the region and reinforcing its mission to social justice.
GB: What would you say to GU students to encourage them to enroll in a Native American Studies class?
LA: Of course I am biased, but I think that learning about our Native American friends and neighbors can enrich everyone. But in terms of what your parents might want to know about how this fits into your career, I would say that if I were an employer looking to hire a GU business major or a GU nursing professional and I saw this cultural aspect on a student’s transcript, because there are so many native peoples in this region, I would think this person can really add a different kind of a nuance to my work organization. As an adviser I want people to understand how this minor can add to a student’s bigger picture.
GB: Do you have anything you would like to add?
LA: I think the GU community reflects a lot about what our classes mean, what the program means and, to me, Native American Studies is the perfect fit with this notion of cura personalis (care for the entire person). Native communities are very much devoted to educating the whole person spiritually, socially, intellectually and physically. So that’s one of the great reasons why this program is such a great fit for GU. It speaks more to GU’s mission than it does at a state university. There are five tribes within a two-hour drive of this university and this university is located within a native homeland. I think having this program is a great way to honor the ancestral peoples of this homeland and to connect with the contemporary Native American peoples.