Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

NAIS Student Experiences

Above, Lise Puyo conducting research at the Canadian Museum of History archives and at the Dartmouth Powwow.

Lise Puyo  (French Exchange Graduate Student):
   "As an exchange student from France, I had been used to limited interaction with faculty members. Although I had heard that professors are more engaging at the University of Pennsylvania, I did not expect to find so much support and guidance. I had access to unique field trips, including a tour of the Native American collections at the Penn Museum, the wampum lot in Old City, and a Wampum Conference in Syracuse, NY, where I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet with Haudenosaunee scholars and cultural leaders. This conference helped me to connect our research with actual people and made me realize why it matters outside of scholarly debates. Dr. Bruchac shared important research skills and both classical and cutting-edge theories, and introduced me to the most influential people in her field of expertise. This course transformed my scholarly interests, my attitude towards research, and my academic career. I began to apply her methodology to the wampum belts in French museums, and this project evolved into the topic of my Master's thesis in France." 

Sarah Parkinson  (Museum Anthropology Undergraduate Student): 
   "These classes have given me an understanding of the diversity within Native American groups as well as the issues that affect these groups today. Most importantly, the NAIS courses emphasize the modernity of Native Americans, which I think is often forgotten when the media is filled with images from the distant past. I think that it's really important to correct stereotypes and misconceptions about Native Americans, as they are one of the most misrepresented groups in popular culture. Having a more accurate understanding of Native Americans can help academics and professionals in any field that might deal with Native issues, including public health, history, anthropology, and law. I am certain that the knowledge I gained from NAIS courses will inform my future career in Anthropology." 

Zhenia Bemko (LPS Undergraduate Student): 
   "In my “Cultural Anthropology” class with Dr. Margaret Bruchac, we closely examined the Native Voices exhibit at the Penn Museum which allowed us to notice some intricacies in exhibit construction and the differing views between Indigenous and Western ideology. The mini ethnographies we produced allowed me to explore and interpret in my own voice topics like international Indigenous law and the origins and evolution of Lacrosse. 
   I’ve also studied “Native American Literature” with Dr. Timothy Powell where we were exposed to both traditional and current knowledge keepers through literature, film and guest speakers. The class worked with the American Philosophical Society’s extensive Native American Library. One of our most important assignments was to digitalize Haudenosaunee stories in order to return them to the tribe, so Iroquois youths could translate the stories into their own language." 

Tiffany Cain (Anthropology Graduate Student): 
   "NAIS is, I think, a very important initiative, and a sensible choice for students who have the interest and have the room in their studies to concentrate on something that the major alone cannot offer. Native Studies can make a huge difference to Native students especially, but also to those students looking to have a more informed and keen eye toward minority populations in the US in their future careers. The inaugural “Native American and Indigenous Studies Conference” brought together an awesome array of Native and non-Native scholars committed to research with, by, and for American Indian and global Indigenous communities. NAIS is a critical space for considering questions of indigeneity and racial formation in the modern state and in a globalized world. But it’s also about pedagogical choices - how do we learn and how do we teach? How can these things be culturally-informed and culturally-sensitive? How can an awareness of other lifeways change the kinds of questions we ask about the world? 
   I think programs like NAIS and other spaces like Africana Studies, for instance, challenge students to critically engage the world around them and to think about the sorts of things they take for granted on a daily basis. And, they also emphasize a giving-back sort of education, where doing well for oneself is inherently linked to doing well for the community. Institutional commitment to these kinds of programs beyond the (equally important spaces) of community centers is crucial. It legitimizes the study of underrepresented people's experiences while creating a safe space within which to negotiate important questions about Indigeneity." 

Corey Herynk (Masters in Fine Arts Graduate Student):
   "The Native American “Performing Culture” course offered richer insight into how representations and self-representations of Indian culture were understood and could be disseminated through the lens of an anthropological discourse. I was also looking for a perspective external to the rhetoric of aesthetic theory which dealt with Native American issues. It has been fruitful to integrate the framework of anthropological theorists and Indigenous perspectives into my fine arts practice. Because of my unique experience within this course, I can be affirmative that the choice to pursue my MFA at Penn was indeed a wise one that has fostered a well-rounded yet diversely situated worldview."

Tanvi Mittal  (Anthropology Undergraduate Student):
   "As an international student from India, I intended on educating myself about America in every way possible. From American law to American history, I tried to gather as much academically sound information as there is to know. The NAIS course really opened my eyes about Native Americans in the USA. Not only did the class break myths and stereotypes, which shamefully existed in my mind, it also put American history into perspective and added to my USA experience (beyond the Penn bubble)." 

Ashley Terry (Biological Anthropology Undergraduate Student):
   "My background in anthropology gives me a really interesting perspective on Native American and Indigenous Studies, especially as it relates to archaeology and policy. I've also found that you can really "personalize" the minor - I can choose courses to make it suit my interests and intersect with/supplement my major. I've found that taking Native Studies courses, rooted as they always are in explaining and exploring contemporary social issues, has equipped me to discuss other social issues. Penn's an open forum for that kind of political discussion, especially right now, so it's good to have a perspective from which to speak. More generally, the faculty teaching courses relating to NAIS are fantastic and I enjoy working and interacting with them.NAIS offers a better understanding of how Native populations came to occupy the position they do today. It also explores the political and social aspects of being Native. But most importantly, courses show how Native Americans and Indigenous people resist and continue to thrive, even in the face of discrimination, today." 

Stephanie Mach  (Anthropology Graduate Student):
   "The Museum is a fantastic resource for Penn students. As part of my position in the Academic Engagement Department, I work with students conducting research on the collections and with student groups interested in museum studies and material culture. For example, last semester I assisted a student in photographing ceramics from their home community. The photographs were uploaded to the Museum's Online Collections database and are now accessible to community members a thousand miles away who might use them for inspiration, teaching, or learning, or who are interested to know how their family member's artistic creations are cared for and displayed. 
   As part of the "On the Wampum Trail: Restorative Research in North American Museums" team with Dr. Bruchac, I have had the chance to view collections of wampum in many museums and speak with many Indigenous knowledge keepers along the way. The project is expanding how I view material culture and training me in a methodology for collaborative research that incorporates both indigenous and museum interests. 
   The NAIS Conference "Indigenous Knowledge in the Academy" provided a forum for meeting dispersed faculty members and fellow students who engage with Indigenous studies and for exploring the varied and shared experiences of negotiating our indigeneity in the Academy. NAIS brings together resources that were once dispersed, such as faculty, courses, funding, research centers, ongoing projects, partners, and events. However, perhaps of greater importance is the visibility it brings to academic opportunities for potential Native students. By formalizing a commitment to Native studies and creating a sense of community, I hope potential students will see the advantages of attending Penn. And they can also see that while our home communities may be far away, the impact of our studies and the partnerships we create here can have immediate and enduring significance."