The University of Arizona Creates New Major in American Indian Studies

Students can now earn a bachelor’s degree in American Indian Studies (AIS) at the University of Arizona. The new degree program makes the UA the first and only university in Arizona to offer a B.A., an M.A. and a Ph.D. in the discipline.

“We are excited to launch the B.A. degree, which will provide undergraduates an opportunity to learn about the resiliency, traditions and creativity of contemporary Native communities,” said John Paul Jones III, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. “With our faculty’s research strengths in sustainability, social justice issues and community development, the new B.A. is the logical extension of the UA’s historic and contemporary efforts to work with Native American communities to meet their needs.”

With a curricular focus on the history, politics, culture, economics, natural resources and environments of Native communities in the U.S., the B.A. program addresses regional workforce development needs by preparing Native American and non-Native students for jobs in tribal organizations, government agencies, nonprofit entities, and private businesses where employees need to understand the unique Nation-to-Nation relationship that American Indians have with the federal government.

In alignment with the UA's commitment to 100 percent engagement, the undergraduate program is designed to give students real-world experience working with Native American communities. Students will be required to complete a community-service-based internship and will assist organizations such as tribal colleges, schools, social organizations, and health agencies.

“Many people are not aware of the political and economic organization of tribes,” said Ofelia Zepeda, interim head of American Indian Studies. “Students in AIS would potentially be better positioned in serving a reservation community. For instance, law enforcement on the reservation requires an understanding of the unique aspects of jurisdiction policies for tribes.”

The B.A. degree in AIS also supports the University of Arizona’s land grant mission. As a public-supported land grant institution, the UA has a responsibility to serve all the citizens of the state. Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, and Native Americans represent 5 percent of the state population. American Indians, however, represent less than 2 percent of incoming freshmen and an even lower percentage of graduates.

“The need to attract and retain American Indian students through graduation is particularly compelling in Arizona,” said Zepeda.

The new B.A. program will offer a course designed to strengthen undergraduate student success rates by addressing social and academic issues that may impact the college experience. Additionally, having an exciting curriculum focused on American Indian and Alaskan Natives topics could serve to attract not only Native students but anyone interested in the historic and contemporary lives of Native people. 

The Department of American Indian Studies strives to develop a strong understanding of the history, lands and cultures of American Indians and Alaska Natives.  By the time students have completed their B.A. in American Indian studies, they will understand the diversity of U.S. tribes’ historic experiences and contemporary contexts. They will also be able to critically analyze scholarly information, treaties, government documents, legal decisions and stories; effectively communicate information both orally and in writing; understand respectful, ethical research protocols within American Indian communities; and demonstrate skills needed for careers working with or on behalf of American Indians. Students may also gain professional development and leadership experience through community-based research and grant writing.

AIS is also committed to leadership, self-determination, and American Indian sovereignty on tribal lands. Since 1982, AIS has conferred over 350 degrees through the AIS Graduate Interdisciplinary Program. In July 2014, the American Indian Studies program joined the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, becoming an academic department and setting the stage for the creation of the B.A. program.


Ofelia Zepeda
Interim Head, American Indian Studies


Published Date: 

06/22/2015 - 1:58pm