The following letter was written by Rebecca Riall, a former board member of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, which dissolved after the resignation of all members. Riall resigned to protest IU’s lack of attention to the interests of American Natives.
I am writing to tell you why the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center (FNECC) Board is dissolving and to share with you my challenge to IU to include American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians in diversity policies.
In the remainder of this letter, I speak only for myself, not my former fellow board members.
The FNECC board fought for the establishment of an American Indian/Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian student center and has, on a volunteer basis, organized the FNECC's programming, represented IU to American Indian communities and provided student support services since 2006.
"The problems have intensified so greatly that I believe I will be more effective advocating for native students elsewhere."
We have done so because IU has chosen not to hire a director for the FNECC. Rather, IU has relied on the board's willingness to serve our people by running the center at the expense of our own studies, health and families.
Speaking only for myself, I am resigning because the board cannot continue to perform the duties of a director without the authority and basic tools essential to doing so. Specifically, administrators with power over the center have neglected critical communication and consultation with us. Most recently, for example, the locks to our offices were changed without prior notice. This interrupted evening office hours and student support activities. New keys were never issued.
While I am cognizant of a policy of not issuing keys to students (although two board members, myself included, are also IU employees), I am puzzled that we were not warned of the change, nor was an alternate access policy ever made available. E-mails and calls to the appropriate administrator were not answered.
This is merely the latest development in an ongoing lack of adequate communication that I have documented. The problems have intensified so greatly that I believe I will be more effective advocating for native students elsewhere. I will remain active in the Native student groups, both of which are watching closely to see what happens next.
"The board and Native student groups have worked in an environment in which American Indians and Alaska Natives are excluded from the overall diversity vision."
The board and Native student groups have worked in an environment in which American Indians and Alaska Natives are excluded from the overall diversity vision. I have been told repeatedly that because our numbers are small we do not receive the same support services as other underrepresented groups. Yet, paradoxically, our numbers remain small at IU because there are few institutionalized support services for American Indian students.
Moreover, as set out in its mission statement, the FNECC does not serve only American Indians. It also serves non-Indian community members wanting to learn accurate, non-stereotypical information about the heterogeneous, contemporary characters of our nations and tribes. Throughout the year, FNECC volunteers have served thousands of people at IUB and throughout central and southern Indiana.
The ball is now in IU's court to demonstrate that Natives are valued as part of diversity. Currently, a widespread belief exists among Native students that IU is to an extent a hostile place for Native students, particularly those who grew up immersed in the culture of their particular American Indian, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian nation.
Like others, I cannot help but notice that the official IU Strategy for Increasing Underrepresented Populations fails to mention American Indians, Alaska Natives or Native Hawaiians even once. I see plans for extensive relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities but not tribal colleges. I see marketing plans exist for Latino/as and African Americans, but not for our communities.
IU is known for researching our nations -- at least the Plains Nations -- yet we are the racial group least likely to graduate from college. Are we valued as research subjects more than as members of the university community? As subjects more than human beings?
"IU is known for researching our nations -- at least the Plains Nations -- yet we are the racial group least likely to graduate from college"
I challenge IU administrators to prove wrong common perceptions of IU as a hostile place for American Indians and to meaningfully and substantively include American Indians in IU's diversity vision. I believe that a faculty Task Force on the Status of American Indians, composed not only of Natives but also of non-Native allies (similar to task forces on other critical issues) could make meaningful strides.
It is unfair to continue to rest the burden solely on Native students and faculty, especially considering the dearth of tenured Native faculty at this university.
IU must stop lagging behind other Big Ten schools -- notably, Purdue -- which demonstrate their prioritization of American Indians through a variety of institutionalized support services and emphasis on Native faculty recruitment. These schools have institutionalized support for Natives rather than standing on the backs of Native students, faculty and staff. I hope IU will seek innovative ways to include our students because diversity cannot exist where certain ethnicities are excluded.
To those of you who have supported FNECC board members and student group leaders: thank you so much. I hope we'll be in touch soon as the Native student groups continue to create new programs, including, I hope, a nonprofit, independent Bloomington American Indian Community Center.
More information about student groups' plans for activism around these and other issues will be available later.
Rebecca Riall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Native board resigns at IU