The following is a story previously published in the Spring issue of the UNO Magazine
Scan the list of classes for UNO’s Native American Studies Program and you’ll ﬁnd a little bit of everything — Native American Literature, Federal Indian Law, Indian Boarding Schools, Shamanism. And much more.
It’s among UNO’s most varied academic programs. And that’s no accident.
“That’s one of the strengths of the program,” says Program Director, Ed Zendejas. “We have history, literature, religion, anthropology, sociology and communications. The spectrum is pretty wide. We bring a depth of experience to the program and a diversity of thought regarding Native American studies, which gives students the option to explore different areas
and grasp a broad view of the discipline.”
Established in 1992, the interdisciplinary program offers students the chance to learn about the many facets of Native American culture. Minors are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and Zendejas estimates that about 30 students per year graduate with Native studies minors.
Zendejas, a 1987 UNO Goodrich program graduate who later earned a law degree from Brigham Young University, took the reins of the program in 2010. He has worked for the Ponca and Omaha tribes as a judge and general counsel and teaches federal and Indian law.
More than one third (10 out of 24) of the faculty members are Native Americans and enrolled tribal members. Aiming to diversify the class offerings — and, by extension, the campus proﬁle — it’s created an evolution within the classroom and has added a new perspective to the Native American narrative.
“Several years ago the university made a commitment to expand the diversity of the faculty,” Zendejas says. “We’ve come a long way in terms of getting community support for what we do. A good number of tribal members are professors. We wouldn’t have survived without the support of the administration, and we’re so grateful for that support.”
Zendejas hopes to expand the program’s proﬁle and outreach. One recent effort toward that end was sponsoring Omaha’s ﬁrst Native American Film Festival Nov. 1-3. The event, which showcased short and feature ﬁlms, was free and open to the public. The “free” part is important to Zendejas, who hopes to continue to invite community members into events without the expectation of paying.
Last year, Billy Mills, gold medalist in the 10,000 meter run at the 1964 Olympics and the second Native American to win an Olympic gold medal, was the featured speaker of a Native American Studies event (bottom photo). The Wambli Sapa Memorial Pow Wow, held in April, named in honor of popular Ponca leader Fred Leroy, has become the program’s signature annual event. Another recent initiative aims to develop a curriculum for a tribal emergency management certiﬁcate to help tribes better respond to
man-made and natural disasters.
“We’ve made a strong effort to extend our outreach,” Zendejas says. “We want this to be viewed as a place to not just send your kids to school, but to be part of a community. The community needs to know that they can count on us to be a good partner.
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