The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Commonwealth Honors Professor Receives $2.5M Grant for Indigenous Studies Program

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Kathleen Brown-Pérez, a Commonwealth Honors senior lecturer in anthropology, recently received a $2.5 million, four-year grant through the Five College Native American and Indigenous Studies program (NAIS). The grant, entitled Gather at the Crossroads: Building Native American and Indigenous Studies at the Five College Consortium, was given by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help the Five Colleges transform how they approach NAIS with the goal of enhancing teaching, learning, and scholarship in the field.

The grant will support new faculty, courses, and course modules at the Five College Consortium. As part of the grant, Five Colleges Inc. will offer mini-grants and residencies to Five College faculty and staff interested in working collaboratively to integrate NAIS into their curricula.

“Our goal is to encourage and support the campuses in developing and establishing a set of new academic pathways for students interested in NAIS,” Brown-Pérez said. “‘Gathering at the Crossroads’ comes from the fact that the Five College campuses are located in the Kwinitekw (Connecticut River) Valley, which has historically been a crossroads of Indigenous nations. Today, it remains a central gathering place for NAIS scholars as well as for Indigenous leaders, artists, writers, and activists.”

The NAIS aims to build a model of collaborative teaching and learning for Native American and Indigenous Studies centered in the Northeast region, but with ties to a global Indigenous network, by infusing Indigenous knowledge across disciplines. They will offer mini-grants of up to $10,000 to lead team projects to develop one or more course modules, a new course, or a cluster of courses (such as Language Study). Faculty can also apply for residency funding of up to $60,000 to host Indigenous artists, authors, activists, and community historians.

The Mellon grant will allow NAIS to hire two new staff members, an NAIS curriculum development fellow and a community development fellow. Each position, lasting three years, will work with faculty, staff, and administrators across campuses. The new roles aim to develop curriculum and a community that serves the needs of Native and Indigenous students and faculty, and foster relationships between the Five College campuses and the area Native communities. The grant will also supplement the hiring of three tenured or tenure-track faculty members centered on NAIS, with a start date of fall 2022.

Brown-Pérez is a citizen of the Brothertown Indian Nation and is of Mohegan, Pequot, Narragansett, Montauk, Oneida, and Stockbridge-Munsee heritage. A federal Indian law attorney specializing in issues of federal Indian policy, such as sovereignty, identity, and crimes/criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country, Brown-Pérez teaches the Honors Thesis course “Conquest by Law: The Use of Law to Subjugate and Marginalize in the U.S.” She also teaches the “Ideas That Change the World” first-year seminar and “Criminal Law and Justice in the U.S.”

“All of us in NAIS are very excited about what the grant will allow us to accomplish,” said Brown-Pérez. “Despite the pandemic, we have continued to meet and work via Zoom to keep the grant as on-schedule as possible.”

The Five Colleges NAIS program is internationally-respected and has offered an NAIS certificate to Five College students for more than twenty years. The program is currently chaired by Dr. Ashley Smith of Amherst College and Hampshire College. Along with Brown-Pérez, the grant was co-convened by Dr. Kiara Vigil of American Studies at Amherst College, who is of Apache and Sioux heritage.