NEH grant

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Photography by Matt Banderas '04

A new summer institute for faculty development is in part the result of Whitman's dedication to becoming a better neighbor and educational partner for Native peoples in the region, according to Associate Professor of English Christopher Leise.

Leise and co-director Laurie Arnold, head of Native American studies and assistant professor of history at Gonzaga University in Spokane, secured funding for the institute, titled "The Native American West: A Case Study of the Columbia Plateau," from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This is the first institutional NEH grant Whitman has received since 1994.

"The NEH's support will not only serve Whitman College and the institute's participants, but it will also help raise the profile of eastern Washington and Oregon in national conversations about Western history," Leise said.

The project is one of 245 nationwide that received NEH funding this academic year, with others ranging from thermal imaging of archaeological sites across the Americas to a new biography of poet Sylvia Plath.

Programming for the 30 participants in "The Native American West" institute—who will travel to Whitman from across the country next June—includes discussions of theoretical texts, participation in field trips and designing learning modules for use in classrooms. An interdisciplinary project, it will explore diverse perspectives on the Indigenous West, the Columbia Plateau and U.S. history, incorporating scholarly historical works about Native Americans, about the Lewis and Clark expedition and its impact and about ongoing tribal and personal self-determination, Leise said. 

Co-directors Leise and Arnold also incorporated faculty members from tribal and community colleges.

"Native community knowledge holders and Native academic scholars represent more than more than half of the institute's faculty, thus providing critically important lenses of learning community narratives from the inside out," Arnold said. The pair hopes that the institute will expand, complicate and sometimes contradict accepted U.S. history narratives about the West.

Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, located on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, Oregon, is one of the partners for the project. Director Roberta Conner—who will be a faculty member at the summer institute—said that local colleges and schools should involve Native histories and voices in their curricula, so that "tomorrow's leaders are more knowledgeable about this region's rich history as a cultural crossroad."

Leise stressed that the institute would not have been possible without sustained support by the college for faculty- and staff-led projects that have opened Whitman's doors to its neighboring Native communities, nor without the expertise of Rachna Sinnott '93, director of grants and foundation relations, and Tana Park, sponsored program coordinator, who assisted with securing NEH funding.

Lisa Perfetti, associate dean for faculty development, also mentioned the strong partnerships that have been built in the region.

"Since my arrival at Whitman in 2011, I have been impressed by the number of people contributing their time and creativity, from the faculty across the college who came out to learn to Professor Arnold and other Native American studies scholars invited to campus, the staff who helped us successfully apply for this and other related grants and our partners at Tamástslikt Cultural Institute," she said. Local partners like the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and the Fort Walla Walla Museum have also "enriched our understanding of the cultural heritage of our region and how Whitman might continue to be an active partner in shaping its future."

For Leise, working toward the institute has "shaped my whole sense of what it means to be a teacher at Whitman. It is an expression of gratitude to the place, its ingenious people, its riveting history and its inspiring sense of the future. I hope to continue carrying those values with me."