VERMILLION, S.D. – The University of South Dakota announced the revitalization of the Institute of American Indian Studies to reaffirm its commitment to Native American education, research and tribal partnerships.
“It is time to revive the institute,” said USD President Sheila K. Gestring. “It is time to commit our resources and our research to fulfill the institute’s important mission: to provide educational opportunities for American Indian students and offer all people the opportunity to research and study the rich history, culture and language of the Indigenous people of North America, generally, and South Dakota, specifically.”
Elise Boxer, Ph.D., assistant professor in Native American Studies and the Department of History, will serve as the institute’s director. Damon Leader Charge, assistant program coordinator in basic biomedical sciences, will serve as director of tribal outreach. The institute will be located in Old Main 203 – home also to the renowned Oscar Howe Art Gallery.
“We look forward to the expertise shared by Dr. Boxer and Damon, and we know that their passion, knowledge and dedication will be essential in connecting USD with the tribal nations,” said Gestring.
USD’s commitment to the future of tribal nations will be demonstrated through increased access and support for undergraduate and graduate students who are from any of the nine federally recognized tribes in South Dakota.
“To best serve these students, we will not only strengthen recruitment efforts to tribal communities but offer greater financial support as well,” Gestring said. “It’s not enough to recruit these students; we must also retain them.”
The institute will award more than $80,000 dollars in scholarships to Indigenous students at USD.
In addition to offering educational opportunities to American Indian students, USD will actively focus on encouraging student engagement through cultural workshops and Indigenous research and connecting USD students to tribal communities and to each other.
“What makes our next steps so exciting is USD’s commitment to make the preservation, collection and sharing of Indigenous oral histories a truly collaborative effort,” said Kurt Hackemer, Ph.D., vice president of Academic Affairs and provost. “Understanding the history and culture of the Northern Plains in the 21st century means understanding, appreciating and embracing the history and culture of all of its peoples and doing it in collaboration with all of its peoples.”
The institute will ensure a meaningful connection to the tribal nations through community-driven research rooted in Indigenous knowledge and beliefs. It will aid in the continued expansion and collection of Indigenous oral histories in the South Dakota Oral History Center. Over the years, the institute has overseen the publication of many important books about the history and culture of Indigenous peoples, including “The American Indian Oral History Manual: Making Many Voices Heard,” which is the standard volume in the field.
The institute has a rich history in South Dakota and a notable reputation throughout the nation. Originally established in 1955 through the concerted efforts of Dr. William O. Farber and Dr. Wesley Hurt, the Institute of American Indian Studies was part of a nationwide effort to aid in the preservation of American Indian heritage and to promote opportunities in higher education for Indigenous students.
During its first decade of existence, the institute sponsored programs and conferences centered around economic, legal and political issues facing the Lakota and Dakota people during the period of federal termination. The Board of Regents formally established the institute on April 30, 1955 and was the first of its kind in the nation. It was later formally recognized by the South Dakota Legislature in 1974.
“The revival of the Institute of American Indian Studies is a significant step forward in aligning our promise and vision with meaningful and intentional action,” Gestring said. “If we commit to collaboration and connection, we can achieve sustained success for the institute and ensure that our community continues to celebrate the history of American Indian tribes in our state.”