Learn more about the Indigenous Studies Working Group, its aims, and its members. We welcome new members from any and all backgrounds.
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Bears Ears National Monument under review
Sacred Bears Ears Monument


Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer, (Anthropology, Berkley Center); Bette Jacobs (Law School, O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law)

The Indigenous Studies Working Group of Georgetown University gathers together colleagues and students interested in the field of Indigenous Studies. We promote greater respect, awareness, and collaboration with Indigenous peoples in our region, in the United States, and across the world. All with serious interest in Indigenous peoples are welcome here.

We honor the Indigenous peoples whose land became the Greater Washington area, especially the Piscataway, Anacostank, Pamunkey and others. Columbus statues have now come down or been taken down in numerous cities. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/16/us/protests-statues-reckoning.html Viewers are welcome to weigh in on how they feel, and what should come next. “Columbus Day,” earlier celebrated October 12, is now designated “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in many states and Washington D.C.

What is Indigeneity?

Indigenous peoples—also known as native or aboriginal peoples—identify themselves as the original inhabitants of their home regions. Indigenous groups today are actively protecting, defining, and transforming their own identities in the context of centuries of colonization, forced assimilation, and genocide. The concept of indigeneity and the suffering, survival, and resilience behind it are in need of debate and exploration. Our network is a growing work in progress, and both faculty and student interest at Georgetown is strong. Our members include faculty from many departments and across Georgetown schools in the main campus and Law School. They also include students from the Native American Student Associations on both campuses.

Why do we need a network?

Today’s university- and country-wide soul-searching concerning misunderstandings about race, the fluidity of identity, and the construction of ethnic group solidarities benefits from adding the dimension of Indigenous studies to the mix of Georgetown’s diversity-oriented events and courses. While our campus is rightfully engaged in heightened awareness concerning race, ethnicity, gender, nationalism, and identity, Indigenous peoples are often marginalized—if not getting lost—once again. We need a better framing for students and faculty in the campus community to benefit more systematically from consciousness-raising concerning issues of Indigenous identity, rights, legacies, and (re)vitalization. We hope that this website can become a forum for discussion of issues that are crucial to Indigenous communities.

Relevant courses in DC area:

Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner (Luiseño/Cupeño), Philosophy Department, is teaching courses that center on Indigenous epistemologies and resistance movements: PHL 010-09: Intro To Ethics, PHL 156: Intro to Indigenous Philosophy, and PHL 719: Indigenous Epistemologies. The first two are entry-level courses and are offered once every year. Please contact Professor Meissner for details.

School of Foreign Service Sp. 2021 “Treaties between Sovereigns: An Overview of American Indian and US Relations” taught by Prof. Charles F. Sams III of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Prof. Stan Thayne.

CULP 375 “Indigenous Peoples, Conflict and Resilience” team-taught by Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer (new window), Faculty Fellow Berkley Center (balzerm@georgetown.edu); Bette Jacobs (new window), Distinguished Professor of Health Administration (Bette.Jacobs@georgetown.edu)

CULP 375 “Indigenous Peoples, Conflict and Resilience”

What is Indigeneity? What can we understand about resilience among peoples who maintain their distinct identities with a place of origin and their associated bonds and traditions in the face of conquest and colonization? This course enables broad examination of issues facing indigenous peoples, with particular experiential study of tribes in the Western Hemisphere. Opportunities for deep dive learning about indigenous groups in other places of special student interest are provided. Native communities process various kinds of globalization, marginality and colonial legacies with different degrees of self-determination, land-based sovereignty, dispute and resistance. While indigenous peoples may be lumped together as the “fourth world,” their social, economic, political and cultural revitalization conditions vary widely in “glocal” contexts. Activist efforts at various levels of local, regional, state and global interactions reveal case studies of progress and on-going tensions. We debate U.N. statements on indigeneity, U.S. federal or state recognition variations, and concepts of identity within First Nations communities. The course is designed to enhance student understanding of multi-disciplinary, practical, ethical and human rights synergies within indigenous studies. An important focus is on student direct experience with indigenous organizations, in partnerships for mutual benefit and learning. Particular attention is paid to American Indian communities, with international comparisons. Hot issues where student participation may be welcome include ecology protest; health services; legal groundwork for sacred lands claims, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (new window) [NAGPRA] logistics, language revitalization and prison justice. The course builds on and is interactive with our indigenous studies website: https://indigeneity.georgetown.edu. (new window)

Eligibility: The class is open to undergraduates in SFS, especially CULP, and Anthropology, with no prerequisites, just enthusiasm. Students from other departments and centers are also welcome. Students interested in Community Based Learning (CBL) and Georgetown’s Diversity initiatives are especially encouraged.

CBL Seminar, Credit and Structure: This 3 credit course fulfills normal SFS and College expectations. It is part of the Center for Social Justice Community Based Learning (new window) faculty cohort that supports active student-community partnerships. Once a week class seminars are augmented by student involvement in community placements for 20 hours per semester. Flexible scheduling enables faculty and CBL staff to help with student projects in specific indigenous-based environments, using outstanding Washington DC area resources for national and international representation. These include the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Indian, National Indian Educational Association (new window) (P St. based), National Congress of American Indians (new window), National Indian Health Board , and more. We anticipate small group placements, with some possible individual arrangements. In the final weeks we share reports on experiential learning as well as engaging in overarching theme discussions and debates.

Advising: Mentoring is tailored to the students who constitute the class. While most advising is done in person, some communication can be through zoom, skype, and other interactive tools. Writing Center (217a Lauinger) http://writingcenter.georgetown.edu (new window) use is encouraged.

Grading: Grades are based on a combination of class participation (discussions and debates) [30%], a short essay due just after Spring break [10%], a ‘research and experience’ report in the class [20%], and a finale paper that incorporates class themes and the community project [40%].

Readings and films: Most readings will be articles, documents, or chapters in books, not whole books. Electronic versions will be available for many assignments. Together we will augment and update the recommended reading and film lists on our https://indigeneity.georgetown.edu (new window) website. Student contributions relevant to community projects are especially important. A few core yet diverse books or parts of books are required for shared interpretations. These include:

Brown, Michael 2003 Who Owns Native Culture? (new window) Cambridge: Harvard University Press. [+ Brown’s supplemental teaching materials.] 0674016335 paper [Chpts 4, 5, 6, 8.]

Deloria, Vine, Jr. 2003 God is Red (new window). Golden, CO: Fulcrum. 30 th anniversary edition.  [Chpt 3, 16.] 1555914985 paper. [Note also his classic Deloria, Vine [1969 or later] Custer Died for Your Sins (new window). U. of Oklahoma.]

Erdrich, Louise 1998 The Antelope Wife (new window) New York: Harper Collins. Novel. [Note also LaRose (new window). 2016 Harper, especially 187-202.]

La Duke, Winona 2015 Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming (new window). Chicago: Haymarket, 2nd edition. [Note also Last Standing Woman (new window) 1997 or other editions.]

Simpson, Audra and Smith, Andrea, eds. 2014 Theorizing Native Studies (new window). Durham, London: Duke University Press. [Especially Intro, Chpt. 10 (Vera Palmer)] 9780822356790

Suzack, Cheryl 2017 Indigenous Women’s Writing and the Cultural Study of Law (new window). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. [Especially Intro, Chpt. 3 and 4].

Tidwell, Alan, Zellen, Barry, eds. 2016 Land, Indigenous People and Conflict (new window). New York: Routledge. [Intro, selected chapters.]

At American University, ANTH 635 “Recognizing Indigenous America” is taught at the graduate level by Buck Woodard (woodard@american.edu (new window)).

At George Washington University, the AT&T Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy (new window) has numerous offerings.

News and Events

Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico) was confirmed at the cabinet level as head of the Department of Interior. Deb Haaland Is Sworn In As Interior Secretary For perspective, see https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/12/18/what-deb-haalands-historic-nomination-as-interior-secretary-means-for-indigenous-peoples/ (new window) See 2021 UN address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJApM934iOA

Our Gender, Indigeneity and Migration symposium at GU was held June 16, 2-4:30 pm. Please contact Bette.Jacobs@georgetown.edu (new window) with questions and access to the recording. Speakers included Alexandra Xanthaki, Juanita Cabrera Lopez, and Laura Cahier.

Smithsonian’s Mother Tongue Film Festival From Feb-May, 6th annual Mother Tongue Film Festival (new window) was virtual in 2021, part of their Recovering Voices (new window) program. See  https://mothertongue.si.edu/ (new window) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD2wLAYc7LA (new window).

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo was outstanding for Georgetown’s Lannan Center “”THIS LAND”: A Reading Featuring Poet Laureate Joy Harjo” March 16, 2021 VIRTUAL EVENT (new window) Recorded

We had a series of “coffee and conversation” workshops. Contact Shelbi Nahwilet Meissner sm3551@georgetown.edu (new window) or Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer balzerm@georgetown.edu for themes and podcast resources. Spring semester, 2021, 4-5:15.

Folklore Society of Greater Washington featured music rooted in Native American traditions with legendary Jamie Fox, Joanne Shenandoah, Robert Mirabal– March 7, 2021 zoom recording.

Energy politics and protest continues to be crucial for President Biden’s administration. See Chippewa writer Louise Erdrich’s urgent plea:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/28/opinion/minnesota-line-3-enbridge-pipeline.html (new window)

Australia’s National Anthem has been edited to become more inclusive. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/31/world/australia/national-anthem-change.html (new window)

“Native American History in the Capital: Discovering Indigenous DC” was presented by Elizabeth Rule (Chickasaw; George Washington U) Nov. 19 to introduce her DC app (see below). A video link is provided on request.

The US supreme court has ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma is Indian Country, confirming treaty rights of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, as well as local Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole Nations. The ruling comes in a context of heightened societal awareness for rights of BIPOC. Poet laureate Joy Harjo’s reflection is https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/opinion/mcgirt-oklahoma-muscogee-creek-nation.html . Lawyer Sarah Deer’s interview is https://www.democracynow.org/2020/7/10/scotus_oklahoma_muscogee_creek_nation (new window) .

Scholarships & Resources for Native American and Alaskan Native Students: https://www.edumed.org/financial-aid/native-american-students-scholarships-resources/ (new window)

Native American Students Have a Newsletter, invite New Recruits

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Featured :https://georgetownvoice.com/2020/08/24/native-students-washington-football-teaam/

Native American Student Petition to GU Available Here

The Native American Student Council was Featured in a Story in the Georgetown Voice

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Smithsonian’s Environmental Film Festival

Stream more than sixty films from the DC Environmental Film Festival (new window), many on Indigenous peoples, for eg. March 14, 2020 Australian Documentary on repatriation “Etched in Bone” 4 pm National Museum of Natural History


Archived Event: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Symposium

Nov 18, 2019 Intercultural Center Auditorium 6:30-8:30 p.m.

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Kennedy Center Day of Indigenous Arts and More

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The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage has free recorded events, often including Indigenous performers.

Online features include Dakota and Lakota youth August 10, 2020.

“Dancing Earth” (April 26, 2019) includes a Piscataway opening blessing on video

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National Museum of the American Indian

Fourth Street & Independence Ave., S.W. Washington, DC 20560

The National Museum of the American Indian offers a wide variety of online programming and events.

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History Making: Representative Debra Haaland (D-New Mexico) on Campus

11/26 and 3/26

Representative Debra Haaland (D-New Mexico) was on Campus March 26, for a forum on “Intersectional Feminism in Congress” and for the symposium “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” November 26. She is one of the first Native American women elected to Congress, leading the legislative effort for Voting Rights, the Environment, the $15 minimum wage, and solving the cases of missing and murdered Native American women.

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Indigenous Peoples March in DC

January 18, 2019

On January 18, 2019, the Indigenous Peoples Movement sponsored a march in Washington, DC to bring awareness to the injustices facing indigenous men, women, and children around the world. Co-sponsors included Cultural Survival.

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In The Future

All are welcome to join our mailing list to learn more about new events of interest on the Georgetown campus and in the Washington metro area.

Join the Network

Explore our Resources and Other Offerings!

Bears Ears National Monument under review

Bears Ears National Monument Controversy

Dr. Bette Jacobs, GULC’s Native American Law Students Association, and GULC’s Environmental Law Society discussed Public Lands, Sacred Lands, and Presidential Authority.


Justice in America for Native Americans

Watch the video of the April 24, 2017 panel and stay current on the Health Law Initiative’s continued work on Justice for Native Americans



The Indigenous Studies Working Group maintains a growing list of resources for Indigenous studies, support, and outreach on the Georgetown campus, throughout the Washington metropolitan area, and across the United States.


Recommended Reading

Browse our growing list of academic and popular literary sources for those interested in learning more about Indigenous histories, cultures, and politics.


Film Database

See our extensive listing of wide-release and independent films, documentaries, and series, many directed, written, and performed by Indigenous directors and actors themselves.


Cultural Expression

See examples of traditional and contemporary Indigenous music and visual arts from performers and artists across the world.