10 Indigenous Studies Graduate Degree Programs

Although indigenous studies graduate degree programs are far less numerous than other humanities, they’re greatly valuable for preserving tribal communities.

Indigenous studies majors explore the history and culture of aboriginal people for responding to 21st century issues affecting their traditions. Earning an indigenous studies degree opens diverse careers, such as tribal community liaison officer, political activist, aboriginal legal counsel, diversity coordinator, cross-cultural communications specialist, and museum curator.

In no particular order, the following are 10 graduate schools in the United States offering top-notch indigenous studies degrees.

Related resource: 10 Conferences About Indigenous Issues in 2017

1. University of Alaska Fairbanks

In the “Last Frontier,” the University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a Ph.D. in Indigenous Studies through its Center for Cross-Cultural Studies. This 57-credit, post-master’s program engages scholars in studying sociocultural issues relevant to Alaskan Natives and the Arctic. Doctoral candidates select from five concentrations: Indigenous Research, Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Indigenous Languages, Indigenous Education/Pedagogy, Indigenous Leadership, or Indigenous Sustainability. The research-based curriculum includes conducting an independent dissertation project and defending it. Students also complete cultural immersion experiences directly with the Aleut, Tlingit, Yupik, and Iñupiat tribes.

Program Website

2. University of Arizona

Since 1979, the University of Arizona’s College of Social & Behavioral Sciences has granted a Master of Arts in American Indian Studies to develop indigenous awareness. Based in Tucson, the 36-unit program sparks holistic, analytical study of critical issues facing native peoples primarily in North America, including the Navajo Nation. Students select from concentrations in American Indian Law, Culture, Education, and Literature. The first could be paired with a 106-unit Juris Doctor for aspiring tribal lawyers. One internship is required at placements like the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI).

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3. Montana State University

At the Bozeman campus, Montana State University grants a 31-credit Master of Arts in Native American Studies within the College of Letters & Science. It’s intended for post-baccalaureate scholars devoted to meeting the evolving needs of Montana’s indigenous tribes, including the Chippewa and Northern Cheyenne. Coursework delves into federal Indian law, Native American beliefs, native food systems, Indian literature, and more before a capstone thesis or professional paper. Students can participate in the Phyllis Berger Memorial Lecture Series and exhibit in the NAS Gallery of Contemporary American Indian Art.

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4. University of California-Los Angeles

The Social Sciences Division at the University of California-Los Angeles confers a Master of Arts in American Indian Studies for at least 30 credits. Associated with the American Indian Studies Center (AISC) since 1982, the interdepartmental degree gives students the administrative capacity to coordinate programs that benefit indigenous peoples. Courses are primarily drawn from linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and history before the master’s thesis on tribal communities. Students may volunteer with the American Indian Recruitment (AIR) initiative. UCLA also delivers a Graduate Certificate in American Indian Studies.

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5. University of Kansas

Earning a M.A. in Indigenous Studies is possible in 18 months full-time at the University of Kansas’ College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The 30-credit program builds in-depth understanding of Native American history and cultures as well as their obstacles in today’s global society. KU’s doctoral-trained faculty have research expertise in indigenous cultural survival, cartography, tribal government, ethnobotany, Indian literature, and more. Students customize their curriculum for a capstone portfolio or master’s thesis. Annually, majors also participate in Lawrence’s Haskell Indian Nations Powwow and Indigenous Culture Festival.

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6. Indiana University Bloomington

At Indiana University Bloomington, the College of Arts and Sciences awards a Ph.D. in Native American and Indigenous Studies. The four-year program explores the history, culture, art, folklore, and politics of indigenous peoples chiefly in the United States and Canada. Students finish at least 90 credits in a self-designed curriculum for transnational study of native life. Degree requirements include completing the reading list, passing a qualifying exam, and conducting an intensive dissertation. Doctoral NAIS students could also win the Virginia LaFollette Gunderson Award of $1,000 for their scholarly essays.

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7. University of Hawaii at Hilo

The University of Hawaii at Hilo offers two great indigenous studies graduate degree programs for learning about the island’s native peoples. First, the M.A. in Indigenous Language and Culture Education is a 31-credit, non-thesis program giving teachers or administrators the tools to teach the Hawaiian language. Graduation will qualify professionals for the Kahuawaiola Indigenous Teacher’s Education Certificate. Second, the Ph.D. in Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Cultural Revitalization engages students in scholarly research for resolving native peoples’ socio-linguistic challenges. Being fluent in the Hawaiian language is mandatory for admission.

Program Website

8. Western Carolina University

Partnered with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Western Carolina University confers a Master of Arts in American History concentrated in Cherokee Studies. The 30-credit program enhances students’ appreciation for the region’s largest indigenous tribe. Students access Hunter Library’s Special Collections to review rich resources on Appalachian history. Whether following the thesis or non-thesis track, students can complete co-operative work at WCU’s Cherokee Center. Graduate scholars have spearheaded the Cherokee Language Revitalization Project with EBCI. There’s also a Culturally-Based Native Health Program (CBNHP) online.

Program Website

9. University of Oklahoma

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the University of Oklahoma’s Master of Arts in Native American Studies has produced over 200 graduates in the College of Arts & Sciences. The 36-credit program centers on the unique perspectives of sovereign Native nations, including the Apache, Caddo, and Arapaho. Students select from three interdisciplinary concentrations: Tribal Governance and Policy, Indigenous Media and Arts, or Language and Cultural Knowledge. In addition to the mandatory thesis, students often choose internships with organizations like the American Indian Institute. Also consider OU’s Master of Legal Studies in Indigenous Peoples Law.

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10. University of California-Davis

Emphasizing the hemispheric study of the Americas, the University of California-Davis offers a M.A. or Ph.D. in Native American Studies from Hart Hall. The 30-unit Master of Arts is a full-time, two-year program introducing the empirical methods for researching the roots of indigenous issues, including religion, linguistics, government, and economics. Students select a thesis project or capstone exam. Post-master’s applicants could pursue the 48-unit Doctor of Philosophy over two to three years with an independent dissertation. UC-Davis also has a Native America Contemplative Garden, Indigenous Research Center (IRCA), and the C.N. Gorman Museum.

Program Website

Indigenous studies majors can provide the cultural awareness critical for successful careers within or near Indian country. Since Indigenous people make up approximately 370 million of the globe’s population, your gained knowledge on their sacred traditions and histories will be far-reaching after graduation. In addition to these indigenous studies graduate degree programs in the United States, the University of Manitoba and the University of Regina have excellent options across the Canadian border.

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