Office for Institutional Diversity Redistributes Funds for Indigenous Lecture Series

Correction (10/27/2023, 1:37pm) — A previous version of this article stated that Professor Kane spoke with OID staff member Jessika Chi, but in fact Professor Kane spoke with OID staff member Jen Whetham. The Quest regrets the error.

During the faculty meeting on Monday, October 9, Visiting Associate Professor of Poetry Joan Naviyuk Kane brought up the removal of the Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series to the Office for Institutional Diversity (OID). Kane is the only current Indigenous faculty member at Reed and is Inupiaq. OID had made the decision to redistribute the funds into their wider OID Mission Grant, but this still left a lot of questions for Professor Kane and others concerned with Reed’s connections to Indigenous communities, especially with this having taken place on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

Professor Kane made the decision to question the lecture series change after hearing about it from Indigenous students and non-Indigenous faculty, saying in an interview with the Quest that especially “since right before the faculty meeting, there was an email from the President of Reed about the war in the Middle East. But there was no mention of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, there has been no communication from Reed about Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And since it was Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I thought at the faculty meeting, there would be some discussion, or perhaps connecting the President’s email to the ongoing war in this country, against Indigenous peoples that has been happening for centuries.” 

Professor Kane continued, “So I asked Phyllis [Esposito, the Vice-President and Dean for Institutional Diversity], specifically for clarity and confirmation that the funding had been withdrawn. She said during the faculty meeting, that the funds were not being used, and she also referred to it as the Vine DeLorean fund. She had said that she moved very slowly and very carefully. That was the explanation that she provided during the faculty meeting, and did not offer any other context. However, there were two events that the Vine Deloria Jr. fund sponsored last academic year, including one in May. When I arrived to campus in June, for the first time, I asked specifically about Native American studies and that lecture fund in particular, I was told that the Native American studies faculty position was specifically housed in Anthropology and that there was funding for a Native speaker to come to campus. So between June and when I arrived, I guess the slow decision was made to remove the funding for the Vine Deloria Jr lecture fund, and it wasn’t communicated to me.”

The decision to redistribute the named fund into the Mission Grant also came as a surprise to the newly formed Native and Indigenous Studies Working Group (NAIS), a member of which, Elizabeth C. Ducey Professor of Anthropology Charlene Makley, spoke to the Quest as well. She said that the group had also discussed with OID issues of Indigenous representation and community on campus in the spring, and had been given no indication of the change to the lecture series. However, Makley said “The Anthropology Department voted to fund the Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series in the interim, it cannot go away. So from the department endowment, $5,000 will go to keep it happening in the way it was founded, with the stipulation that the first call for funding will go to current Native students.” 

She stressed that this was an interim move, as the lecture series should not live within one department, and also saw it as something that should not live within OID because “it postdates the beginning of the lecture series, which came from students, faculty, and the MRC [Multicultural Resource Center].” Indeed, when the lecture series was founded in 2007, it was part of a very different structure. Now, the MRC is housed within OID and thus functions differently. 

The Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series ran from 2007 up until its most recent event in May of 2023, with “no programming between 2008 and 2009 (a two-year gap) and again between 2017 and 2022 (a six-year gap) for a total of eight years with no programming offered,” according to OID. OID explained to the Quest why the funding was redistributed, with a statement saying that “the funding for the Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series was not removed, rather reallocated to support the OID Mission Grant, making this fund readily available for all Reed community members to access. We made this decision to ensure a more consistent process, to be accountable with the resources we currently have, and to gather evidence to inform future requests.” They also stated that “the parameters of the Mission Grant allows our community to access a larger amount of resources to support any project that meets the mission of our office. Since the Mission Grant’s inception in August 2023, our team has approved $3,000 toward inviting Indigenous Scholars to Reed, with no limitations on further funding for these efforts for the rest of this year.” 

The newness of OID is important to note, with three of its five staff only joining Reed a year ago, so they are still developing frameworks for how their office functions, and how they can “co-create a shared vision for OID and discern how we institutionalize diversity at Reed.” Those interested in utilizing the Mission Grant are directed to OID’s website, where they can find instructions. It is important to note that the Grant caps funding approval at $2,000, which is less than half of what the Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series had. Having the higher $5,000 threshold allowed the series to bring in high-profile speakers or host panels, according to Charlene Makley, something it will be able to continue to do under the Anthropology Department, as of now.

In its 16-year run, the Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series brought many preeminent Native scholars to Reed, including Adrienne Keene, Winona LaDuke, and Vine Deloria Jr.’s son Phillip Deloria, who spoke for the inaugural lecture. A Reed Magazine article of the day stated that “the new Vine Deloria Lecture Series is designed to ‘call attention to the often-silenced voice’ of Native American scholars, says Lisa Moore, Assistant Dean of Multicultural Affairs at Reed, who was instrumental in arranging the Deloria events on campus.” From the explanation of the Series on Reed Events “Vine Deloria Jr., a preeminent intellectual of the 20th century, brought attention to the importance of place and traditions within Native American communities. He was the author of more than 20 works and was an active leader for numerous Native American institutions.” To learn more about Vine Deloria Jr. and the founding of the Lecture Series, the aforementioned Reed Magazine article “Native American History: A Personal View” provides an overview.

The most recent event of the Lecture Series took place this past May and was titled “Kū Kiaʻi Aloha: Decolonial Intimacies and Governance Beyond the ‘Nation Straight’” given by Dr. Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio. According to Professor Kane, “It was extremely well attended, I’ve heard from a number of Native students that it was really important for students, especially embarking on J-Sem, and beginning to think about theses.” These comments are corroborated by Charlene Makley, who said of her experience at the Lecture that it was “standing room only, it brought down the house. It was the most impactful thing in years.” The Lecture is up on the Reed College YouTube page, for anyone interested in watching. There is also a Reed Magazine article about a 2012 Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series event, “a panel discussion titled “Making the Visible Invisible.” These events are important to the cultivation of the Indigenous community at Reed.

Professor Kane is one of only two Native faculty members the college has ever employed and is only here on a visiting contract. This led her to confusion on “how to contextualize my role as an Indigenous person on this campus, with other Indigenous people on campus.” Professor Kane has been reached out to by a number of Native students and encourages any others to contact her, as they attempt to form a community. When the question of the Indigenous community at Reed was presented to OID, they brought up that there is an Indigenous Staff and Faculty Affinity Group, and “if there is a desire, all students have the opportunity to create an identity-based student club and obtain institutional funding through the Student Senate and receive institutional support from the Office for Student Engagement and the Multicultural Resource Center. We understand that not all students are aware of this process. To learn more about how to start a club, visit the Office for Student Engagement website.” 

In talking with the Quest, Professor Kane stressed the importance of focusing on Native students during all of this, and mentioned an important statistic from Adrienne Keene, a colleague of hers and a past Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series speaker, that states that “for every 100 Native 9th graders who start high school, only 48 will graduate and 20 will enter a form of postsecondary education, but only one will graduate.” Kane stated that “for the Native students who are on the Reed campus, and for Native faculty, we’ve already been contending with systemic and structural racism and policies that clearly connect to a lack of resources, support, understanding, responsibility and accountability of higher education institutions in this country, on Native land. We are already contending with all the difficult work of being present and showing up on any campus that we have chosen to be on. And it’s incredibly hard to add or make available an expectation to educate non-Indigenous institutions, predominantly white institutions, faculty, staff, and communities about specific obligations that settler systems have to Native peoples, Native states, tribes, and the complexity of relationships between Indigenous students and higher education institutions in particular.”

The lack of recognition for Indigenous Peoples’ Day was personally hurtful to Professor Kane, and the timing of the change in funding for a named Indigenous Lecture Series was particularly poignant. In their statement to the Quest OID said of the incident “We first want to name that we know our Indigenous students, faculty, and staff did not feel seen on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We apologize for the impact of our silence. There are times that we choose to send an email. We do so when we have authentic and realistic resources to offer our community simultaneously. When we don’t, we don’t want to default to a performative gesture without the deeper work that is required.” In an interview Phyllis Esposito further discussed this, saying of future plans around Indigenous Peoples’ Day, “How do we make sure and ensure that we pair this up with somebody for work, right? Because it can’t just be we’ve done this and then the institution sits in a certain place that doesn’t follow up and support this. So that’s the point of saying that we don’t want it to be a performative gesture, which would be able to say, ‘we’re doing this, then we’re comparing it with this’ to kind of continue to create the community that we want to create.” She also said that “resources will always be a question that we have, and so how do we structure ourselves institutionally to do this? Because we see this work as not just being the responsibility of OID, but that it is truly our collective work. And so as I am growing into my leadership with this division, how are we making those partnerships and collaborations happen? Because it’s deeper work than just what OID can do.”

Going forward, both Professor Kane and the Native and Indigenous Studies Working Group are working to find ways in which to support Native students and communities at Reed, a long and complex road. The NAIS group of faculty, staff, and students was founded to “try to understand the institutional erasure of Native peoples and histories in greater Portland and nationally. Reed is an outlier for liberal arts colleges for its lack of attention to Native and Indigenous presence.” According to Professor Makley, who also mentioned how they brought in “Native mentors to discuss building NAIS at a college like Reed: what other schools are doing, best practices. We wanted to be very careful, especially as most of us are not Native.” From this they “learned a lot last year, and during the summer made a preliminary vision, for a long-term strategy of how to build NAIS at Reed, including a cluster hire of NAIS faculty and support for Native and Indigenous student recruitment, retention, and community building.” As she said, we “can’t expect one professor to do it all by themselves.” This plan is a hope for the future that was brought before OID in the spring.

After her question at the October 9 faculty meeting, Professor Kane was approached by OID staff member Jen Whetham to discuss the issues Kane brought up, including the lack of recognition for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Professor Kane provided examples of other things she has seen work on other campuses, such as “really successful mentorship programs that include institutional funding for mentorship relationships, so whether it’s Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors, having funds to meet one other Native student for a meal, for a chance to check in and see how they’re doing academically, how they’re navigating the dynamics of being Indigenous, in predominantly white institutions, how to connect their scholarship back to their communities, and how to pursue academic and intellectual work.” As well as “having informal, Indigenous-led, Indigenous-centered cultural events, academic events, opportunities to meet, and opportunities to engage with tribal communities, in specific regions, in specific cities, on reservations on tribal lands, and all the work that institutions have to do in order to responsibly undertake that work.”

Following these conversations, OID has said they are committed “to transparency and integrity. We welcome questions and continued open dialogue.” For Kane, “The first responsibility Reed has is to Indigenous students.” This sentiment is backed up by the Anthropology Department’s choice to give priority to Indigenous students in presenting new events for the Vine Deloria Jr. Lecture Series. Professor Makley was clear in their intent, that while it may only be housed within the Anthropology Department on an interim basis, “This lecture series will not die.”

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