By Tyler Coley
The recent announcement that HSU President Rollin C. Richmond will be stepping down means that new university leadership could bring change for better — or worse — to HSU’s Native American Studies program. The future of the program is “up in the air,” said NAS professor Marlon Sherman, who’s taught at HSU for 11 years.
“All we can do is hope,” he said.
The program, started in 1994, has had a positive impact on the students and local tribes, faculty and students agreed, but the program has suffered over the years in rising to its full potential due to lack of funding. That doesn’t keep Sherman from being optimistic.
“I would like to see more professors, a language program and a center for indigenous peace-making,” said Sherman.
Unlike math, English or engineering, a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies is one of the more recent majors to be offered at Humboldt State University. Kerri Moallony, a graduate of the NAS program, was one of the first students to go through the it, coming in a year after it started which was in 1994. He is a teaching assistant.
“Only CSU that offers just a NAS major,” Maollony said. “Other schools have similar programs but none that offer a BA specifically in the NAS studies.”
Though NAS is its own program now it wasn’t always so. Joan R. Berman, a librarian who works in the Humboldt Room, has been working with the Native American department sense 1974 when she first started working for HSU.
“Native Studies started as part of ethnic studies with two professors in the early 1970s,” Berman said. “Eventually those who taught the native classes had there own program, then in the early ’90s they made their own major.”
The uniqueness of Native Studies as its own major also comes from the social fabric of Humboldt county itself. Humboldt has the highest percentage of native people in its county state wide.
“The local tribes in the area really pushed for there to be a major specifically for Native Studies separate from being attached to other majors,” Sherman said. “Other places around the state have to convince a larger audience that there was a need for it. Here there was a double whammy of isolation and tribal support to get the major put in place.”
The program has helped tribe members in the area over the years in two main ways.
“Our relationship with tribes is that we graduate students who go and work with their tribes,” said Sherman.
Kerri Moallony is one example. After graduating from HSU and before coming back to help with the NAS department he worked for the Yurok tribe for five years helping support the tribal council. Moallony offered insights into how the program has helped the local tribes and others.
“It’s had a really positive effect because of the amount of non-native students that are being exposed to a different outlook on U.S. history and … America itself,” Moallony said.