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UNM To Offer Native American Studies Degree

By Olivier Uyttebrouck
Journal Staff Writer
    Years of effort by Indian scholars at the University of New Mexico paid off Tuesday when regents approved a new bachelor's degree in Native American studies.
    Greg Cajete, director of the Native American studies program, predicted that 100 students will enroll as majors or minors in the program by 2006.
    "This is a historic moment for Native American education," Cajete told regents shortly before they approved the program.
    The move makes UNM the first New Mexico college to offer a degree dedicated to Native American studies, Cajete said.
    UNM likely will offer a master's degree in Native American studies by 2007, he said.
    Several dozen students and faculty attended the meeting Tuesday to support the new program.
    "A degree program is more significant than a minor," said Vibeka Sandoval, 24, a Navajo from Naschitti, who is minoring in Native American studies and plans to seek the new degree. UNM created a minor in Native American studies in 1999.
    Sandoval said the academic program taught her things about Indian history and society that she had never suspected while growing up on the reservation.
    "I want to be able to teach at schools on the reservation and teach them what I have learned here," said Sandoval, one of about 3,000 Native American students at UNM.
    Building an academic program devoted to the history and society of Indian country has been a long, slow climb, Cajete said after the meeting.
    UNM created a Native American studies program in 1970, largely as a way to support Indian students. The field of Native American studies, both at UNM and nationally, has gathered steam in the last decade, he said.
    "Native American studies as a discipline is coming into its own, mainly because there are more scholars, researchers and professors coming up through the ranks," he said.