CAIIS receives $1.8M grant

photo of exterior of Intellectual House

wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House – is one of the campus partners in the UW Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

Programs to support current and future Native American students, along with both undergraduate and graduate research in the Indigenous humanities, will benefit from a $1.8 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The nearly year-old UW Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies on Sept. 16 received the award, which will fund four years of work at the UW around Native student support, academics, research and cultural programs.

“We spent the first year planning the center from the ground up, meeting with Native faculty, students, staff and community research partners across the UW campuses,” said co-director Jean Dennison (Osage Nation),  a UW associate professor of American Indian Studies. “Through one-on-one meetings, a survey, and writing retreats, we envisioned creating strong communities where we can support and learn from each other. This Mellon grant will go a long way in helping us re-engineer the university to meet these needs.”

The New York-based Mellon Foundation, which supports the humanities in higher education and the arts, awarded the grant in recognition of UW’s potential to be a leader among state flagship universities in the growing field of Indigenous Studies.

The UW Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies launched in fall 2018 to bring together the faculty and students involved in American Indian and Indigenous studies, an interdisciplinary field of research that intersects the social sciences, arts and humanities, education and natural sciences. Nearly a dozen units, including the Provost’s Office, the Graduate School, UW Libraries, UW Tacoma and UW Bothell, contributed to the initial funding of the Center and related activities, a total of over $1 million spread over five years. The Center has a Deans’ advisory board as well as an overall advisory board of Native undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and community research partners.

American Indian, Alaska Native and Pacific Islander students make up an estimated 1% of undergraduates at the UW, and 0.4% of the total faculty. That underrepresentation could begin to change, Vice President for the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity Rickey Hall said, with a campus environment that boosts staffing and activities focused on the Native community.

With the new grant, the center can continue an existing seminar for graduate students — the Summer Institute on Global Indigeneities — and create five new programs for undergraduates, graduates and transfer students:

  • The Native UW Scholars Program, a cohort-based program for incoming freshmen that will partner with the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House to host a one-week residential experience in the summer, an orientation program with parents, a year-long seminar and peer mentorships
  • The Native Pathways @ UW Program, which will support UW graduate students to teach at two-year and tribal colleges in the area, host a regional Indigenous Studies Higher Education Pedagogy Summit, and support the development of new coursework in AIIS
  • Research Family experiences, which will provide training and support to undergraduate students undertaking humanities research in American Indian and Indigenous studies through a two-week summer program and peer mentorships to other relevant research experiences across the campuses
  • The AIIS Scholars Program, focused on building community among graduate students, faculty and staff through a monthly space to workshop AIIS projects
  • The Native Knowledge-in-Residence Program, an initiative to bring Native scholars to the UW to teach classes, offer workshops and supervise research, among other activities

“The Mellon grant will allow us to better leverage the UW’s existing infrastructure for connecting with Native communities; supporting Native students, staff and faculty; and producing innovative scholarship in the expanding field of Indigenous studies,” said center co-director Chadwick Allen (Chickasaw ancestry), a UW professor of English and associate vice provost for faculty advancement.

Two people at a podium inside Intellectual House

Iisaaksiichaa Ross Braine (Apsaalooke Nation), UW tribal liaison and director of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, and Jean Dennison, UW associate professor of American Indian Studies, speak at an open house for CAIIS last spring.Sven Haakanson/U. of Washington

The Center can begin implementing the grant immediately, Dennison said. The first priority is to hire the Native Pathways @ UW coordinator to run the new programs.

“Central to our goal of fostering Indigenous communities at the UW is creating a space in which Native knowledge, especially the languages, can thrive,” Dennison said.

The Native Knowledge-in-Residence program will bring Native specialists to the UW’s campuses to teach a sequence of courses in the Department of American Indian Studies, host regular knowledge tables, supervise research projects, offer lectures and workshops, develop curricula, and build partnerships with Indian education programs to create pathways for Native students to and through the university. The first resident of that program will be Tami Hohn (Puyallup Tribe), a lecturer in American Indian Studies and an expert on the Southern Lushootseed language, the traditional language of the lands that support the University of Washington.

It’s an important time for American Indian and Indigenous studies in general, said Dian Million (Tanana Athabascan) , associate professor and chair of American Indian Studies. “As Canada undergoes an examination of its own history of violence and trauma involving Indigenous peoples, educational institutions there are investing heavily in Indigenous studies. U.S. institutions should do the same.”

While the increased activity and investment around AIIS may be new, the presence of American Indian Studies at UW is not.  Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Department of American Indian Studies, which started as a small program in 1970. Additional momentum around American Indian and Indigenous studies on the UW campus has come from the creation of the wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House, the Bill Holm Center, First Nations @ UW, the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, the iNative Research group, and others.

“The UW and our partners are now at a point where we can do more than simply reach out to communities that have been marginalized and underserved — we can actually begin to transform academic space across disciplines, working to create supportive ecosystems in which Indigenous peoples and our relations can thrive,” Allen said.

Other UW faculty involved in writing the grant were Sara Gonzalez, associate professor of anthropology, and Tony Lucero, associate professor in the Jackson School of International Studies.

For more information on the Mellon grant or CAIIS, contact

Kim Eckart

UW News