When Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, Minnesota decided not to offer a class called The Dakota People of Minnesota: Genocide, Survival, and Recovery in 2012, students responded with a protest and petition.
The class was taught by Dr. Chris Mato Nunpa in the fall of 2011 as a special topic under the title ETH332: Topics in Contemporary Native North America in the Ethnic Studies Department.
Nantawan Lewis, chair of the Ethnic Studies Department, clarified that the class wasn’t dropped, noting that “ETH332 offers a different topic or a sequence of topics each time as a means of enriching the elective offerings for students.”
Nunpa and protesting students feel it is important to offer the class again this year because it’s the 150th anniversary of the U.S-Dakota War of 1862. A war that ended with the hanging of 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862—the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
“When I talk about genocide and the 15 million Natives who were killed since the 1500s it is considered controversial; it makes others uncomfortable talking about the past. But not too many people know about this history, and eventually, if no one knows about it, its no longer history at all,” Nunpa told The Circle.
A peaceful protest was held December 7, 2011 in the New Main building of the Saint Paul, Minnesota campus that included students, professors, community leaders and representatives from the American Indian Movement. They were not only protesting the class mentioned above but the lack of Native American Studies classes in general. Students also called attention to American Indian Spirituality, another class that was nixed for the spring 2012 semester, which runs from January to May.
The students are petitioning Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton; the chair of the Ethnic Studies Department, Nantawan Lewis; Metropolitan State University President Sue Hammersmith; and the chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Steven J. Rosenstone, to bring back the Genocide, Survival, and Recovery class.
The petition has garnered 135 signatures and is available to sign at Change.org.
According to the Ethnic Studies Course Descriptions page, there are no specific American Indian classes being offered this semester, but there are six that are “not offered for the current term but will be offered some time in future terms.”
Lewis said there are many factors as to why Native American courses are not being offered this semester including the needs of students enrolled in the ethnic studies major and minor and in specific professional programs like the Urban Teacher Education Program.
“The department must balance its course offerings in light of the budget that is allocated to the department,” Lewis said, adding that studies of four major racial groups—African American, American Indian, Asian American and Latino American—are rotated on an annual and bi-annual basis. This is done to “ensure equal distribution of offerings that respond to the needs of our major and minor and availability of instructors.”
Lewis said courses in American Indian studies are typically offered during the fall semester, and aren’t strictly offered by the Ethnic Studies Department. Metro State University doesn’t have an actual Native American Studies major, but does offer classes specific to American Indians through the History Department, the Literature and Language Department and the Human Services Department.
“Students who wish to major in an individualized track with emphasis on American Indian Studies have a diversity of focuses in this discipline to choose from across the university curriculum,” Lewis said.