What is a Native American Studies Degree?

A Native American Studies degree is an interdisciplinary academic program that focuses on the study of Indigenous peoples and cultures of North America, including the United States and Canada. The field of Native American Studies encompasses a wide range of topics related to Indigenous histories, societies, languages, cultures, politics, and contemporary issues. Through coursework, research, and experiential learning, students gain a comprehensive understanding of Native American experiences, perspectives, and contributions to society.

Key components of a Native American Studies degree program may include:

  • Historical Perspectives: Students study the history of Native American peoples from pre-colonial times to the present day, including the impact of colonization, European contact, westward expansion, and federal Indian policies. They explore Indigenous perspectives on historical events, resistance movements, cultural adaptation, and resilience.
  • Cultural Diversity: The program emphasizes the diversity of Indigenous cultures, languages, and traditions across different tribes and regions of North America. Students learn about traditional lifeways, spiritual practices, artistic expressions, oral traditions, and kinship systems, as well as contemporary cultural revitalization efforts.
  • Tribal Sovereignty and Governance: Students examine the political and legal status of Native American tribes and nations, including treaties, sovereignty rights, self-governance, and tribal-federal relations. They explore issues related to tribal sovereignty, jurisdiction, land rights, natural resource management, and the role of tribal governments in addressing community needs.
  • Contemporary Issues: The program addresses current challenges and issues facing Native American communities, such as social justice, environmental justice, health disparities, education equity, economic development, cultural preservation, and representation in mainstream media and popular culture.
  • Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Students explore Indigenous epistemologies, worldviews, and ways of knowing, including traditional ecological knowledge, oral histories, storytelling traditions, and Indigenous research methodologies. They learn to critically analyze and engage with diverse forms of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.
  • Interdisciplinary Approaches: Native American Studies programs often draw on interdisciplinary approaches from fields such as anthropology, history, sociology, political science, literature, environmental studies, education, and the arts. Students gain interdisciplinary perspectives and develop analytical skills for examining complex issues from multiple angles.
  • Community Engagement and Activism: Many Native American Studies programs emphasize community-based learning, service, and activism, providing opportunities for students to engage with Native American communities through internships, research projects, cultural exchanges, and advocacy initiatives. Students learn to collaborate respectfully with Indigenous peoples and contribute positively to community empowerment and social change.

Program Options

Program options for Native American Studies degrees can vary depending on the institution and its offerings. However, here are some common program options you might encounter:

  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Native American Studies: This undergraduate program typically offers a comprehensive curriculum covering a range of topics related to Indigenous peoples and cultures of North America. Students study Indigenous histories, languages, literatures, arts, politics, and contemporary issues. They may have the opportunity to focus on specific regions, tribes, or thematic areas within Native American Studies.
  • Minor in Native American Studies: Some colleges and universities offer a minor or concentration in Native American Studies as a complement to a major in another field. A minor in Native American Studies allows students to explore Indigenous perspectives and issues while pursuing a primary area of study in disciplines such as history, anthropology, sociology, or American studies.
  • Certificate Programs: Some institutions offer certificate programs in Native American Studies for students and professionals seeking specialized training or enrichment in the field. Certificate programs may focus on specific topics such as Indigenous languages, tribal governance, cultural heritage preservation, or Indigenous research methodologies.
  • Master of Arts (M.A.) in Native American Studies: Graduate-level programs in Native American Studies provide advanced training and research opportunities for students interested in pursuing careers in academia, research, advocacy, or community leadership. M.A. programs typically require coursework, a thesis or research project, and may offer opportunities for internships or fieldwork in Indigenous communities.
  • Doctoral Programs (Ph.D.) in Native American Studies: Some universities offer Ph.D. programs in Native American Studies or related interdisciplinary fields. Doctoral programs prepare students for careers as scholars, researchers, educators, or policymakers specializing in Indigenous studies. Doctoral candidates conduct original research, write dissertations, and make significant contributions to the field of Native American Studies.
  • Dual-Degree Programs: Some institutions offer dual-degree programs that allow students to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Native American Studies along with a degree in another field, such as education, law, social work, or environmental studies. Dual-degree programs provide interdisciplinary training and prepare students for specialized career paths or advanced study.
  • Online and Distance Learning Options: Many Native American Studies programs offer online courses or distance learning options, allowing students to pursue their studies remotely while balancing work, family, or other commitments. Online programs may offer flexibility and accessibility for students who are unable to attend traditional on-campus classes.

Skills You’ll Learn

In a Native American Studies degree program, students develop a diverse set of skills that are valuable across various fields and industries. Here are some of the key skills you’ll learn:

  • Cultural Competency: Students gain a deep understanding of Indigenous cultures, histories, and worldviews, developing cultural competency and sensitivity to diverse Indigenous perspectives and experiences.
  • Critical Thinking: The program emphasizes critical thinking skills, enabling students to analyze complex issues related to Indigenous peoples, societies, and histories from multiple perspectives and evaluate evidence-based arguments.
  • Research Skills: Students learn research methodologies and techniques for conducting scholarly inquiries into Indigenous histories, cultures, languages, and contemporary issues. They develop skills in gathering, analyzing, and interpreting primary and secondary sources of information.
  • Interdisciplinary Approaches: Native American Studies programs often draw on interdisciplinary approaches from fields such as anthropology, history, sociology, literature, political science, environmental studies, and Indigenous studies. Students gain interdisciplinary perspectives and learn to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines.
  • Communication Skills: Students develop strong written and oral communication skills, enabling them to articulate their ideas clearly and persuasively in academic writing, presentations, and discussions. They learn to communicate effectively with diverse audiences, including Indigenous communities, scholars, policymakers, and the general public.
  • Cultural Analysis: Students learn to critically analyze cultural artifacts, texts, oral traditions, artworks, and media representations related to Indigenous peoples, applying cultural theory and methodology to understand their meanings and significance.
  • Community Engagement: Many Native American Studies programs emphasize community-based learning, service, and activism, providing opportunities for students to engage with Indigenous communities through internships, research projects, cultural exchanges, and advocacy initiatives.
  • Ethical and Social Responsibility: Students explore ethical issues and social responsibilities related to Indigenous rights, sovereignty, representation, and cultural preservation. They develop a sense of ethical awareness and social responsibility in their interactions with Indigenous peoples and communities.
  • Leadership and Advocacy: Students learn leadership skills and advocacy strategies for promoting Indigenous rights, social justice, environmental sustainability, and cultural revitalization. They develop the ability to advocate for positive change and empower Indigenous communities to address their own needs and aspirations.
  • Intercultural Competence: Students cultivate intercultural competence, which involves understanding and respecting cultural differences, navigating intercultural interactions, and collaborating respectfully with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds.

What Can You Do with a Native American Studies Degree?

A degree in Native American Studies provides graduates with a comprehensive understanding of Indigenous histories, cultures, and contemporary issues, as well as valuable skills in research, critical thinking, communication, and cultural competency. Here are some potential career options for individuals with a Native American Studies degree:

  • Tribal Liaison/Advocate: Graduates may work as tribal liaisons or advocates for tribal governments, Indigenous organizations, or non-profit agencies, facilitating communication, collaboration, and advocacy efforts between Indigenous communities and external stakeholders. They may represent tribal interests in government agencies, public forums, or legal proceedings.
  • Cultural Resource Manager: Graduates may work in cultural resource management positions within government agencies, museums, historic preservation organizations, or tribal cultural centers, overseeing the documentation, protection, and promotion of Indigenous cultural heritage sites, artifacts, and traditions.
  • Educator/Teacher: Graduates may pursue careers as educators, teachers, or curriculum developers, teaching Native American Studies, Indigenous history, or cultural studies at schools, colleges, universities, or tribal education programs. They may also develop culturally responsive educational materials and resources for diverse learners.
  • Community Development Specialist: Graduates may work as community development specialists, cultural coordinators, or program managers for Indigenous community organizations, tribal governments, or non-profit agencies, leading initiatives to promote economic development, cultural revitalization, and social well-being within Indigenous communities.
  • Social Worker/Counselor: Graduates may work as social workers, counselors, or mental health professionals, providing culturally sensitive services to Indigenous individuals, families, and communities. They may address issues such as trauma, substance abuse, domestic violence, or intergenerational trauma within Indigenous populations.
  • Policy Analyst/Researcher: Graduates may pursue careers as policy analysts, researchers, or advocates in government agencies, think tanks, research institutes, or advocacy organizations, focusing on Indigenous rights, sovereignty, environmental justice, healthcare disparities, or education equity.
  • Tribal Governance Specialist: Graduates may work in roles related to tribal governance, law, or administration, assisting tribal governments with legal research, policy analysis, program development, and administrative support services. They may also work as tribal court advocates or legal assistants.
  • Museum Curator/Archivist: Graduates may work as museum curators, archivists, or collection managers, preserving and interpreting Indigenous cultural artifacts, artworks, and documents for museums, archives, cultural centers, or tribal heritage organizations.
  • Environmental Conservationist: Graduates may work as environmental conservationists, natural resource managers, or sustainability coordinators, advocating for Indigenous environmental rights, land stewardship, and resource management practices that respect Indigenous knowledge and values.
  • Media and Cultural Production: Graduates may pursue careers in media and cultural production, creating films, documentaries, publications, or digital media projects that amplify Indigenous voices, stories, and perspectives in mainstream media and popular culture.


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