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About Us

Promoting Tribal Sovereignty and Community Building through Place-Based Knowledge in Higher Education


Director's Message

The byline for the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center states, “Education is the Path to Self-Determination.” These words greet our staff, students, faculty, and visitors to our ad hoc American Indian Studies Department and they are words that we live by. We live in a fast-moving and complicated era of tribal sovereignty in which the most common image that everyday citizens have of American Indians is a casino. As an American Indian educator, I have spent my entire life combating harmful stereotypes of American Indians ranging from the drunken and poor Indian to the Indian-maiden costume that shows up all too frequently at Halloween and in “cowboys and Indians” themed parties. The motivation for me to fight the good fight always boils down to the byline for the CICSC-education is the path to self-determination and this is true for all of us Indian and non-Indian alike. For American Indian people in particular the need for education to sustain the milestones and achievements that our tribal ancestors and leaders have worked so hard to build is paramount. Building a 21st century AIS department, minor, and, hopefully, major will contribute to the pipeline of success that local tribes are building in Southern California.

Dr. Joely Proudfit, Ph.D.
Department of American Indian Studies, Chair (Luiseño/Payómkawichum, Tongva) 
California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center, Director

Our Story

In 2005 President Karen Haynes started a Tribal Initiative at CSUSM. She began her work by creating a Native Advisory Council (NAC) comprised of faculty, staff, and most importantly, representatives appointed by local tribal communities. The NAC is a broad-based tribal community council with a mission to “assist regional tribal communities in Indian country in articulating educational needs through advisement and regular meetings with CSUSM President and CSUSM Leadership.” The NAC works to increase educational, professional, and research opportunities while preserving cultural integrity of tribal communities and realizing individual and unique concerns. 

 The American Indian Studies Department was first conceived by the members of the President’s Native Advisory Council. In 2007, CSUSM hired the first full-time tribal liaison, Ms. Tishmall Turner (Rincon Band of LuiseñoIndians) in the CSU system from a local tribal community. In 2008, Dr. Joely Proudfit(Luiseño/Payómkawichum) joined CSUSM faculty in Sociology/Native Studies and was hired to take the leadership role in developing the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center (CICSC). The CICSC charter was approved in 2009 and the doors opened November 17, 2011. The CICSC has a mission to foster collaborative research and community service relationships between faculty, staff, and students at CSUSM and members of the tribal communities. With tribal staff, faculty, and community support firmly in place at CSUSM, the obvious missing piece to the Tribal Initiative was in curricular offerings.

Since 2008 the work to develop an American Indian Studies major/department has been a combination of community-based and formal university-wide collaborations. In the Fall Semester 2014, Provost Graham Oberem convened an American Indian Task Force to determine the need for the creation of an American Indian Studies Department. The Task Force recommended that such a department be created and that a major area of study also be considered in the near future. In the Spring Semester 2015, Provost Oberem announced his support of the Task Force’s recommendation to create an American Indian Studies Department at the Academic Senate meeting (May 2015). He also announced the appointment of Dr. Joely Proudfit as the inaugural chair of the American Indian Studies Department. Following her appointment as department chair, Dr. Proudfit was tasked with convening a strategic planning process to develop a vision, mission, and strategic objectives for the AIS department.

The American Indian Studies (AIS) Department launched the AIS Major in Fall 2017. The Mission of the American Indian Studies Department is to provide students with a research, community- and place-based program of study through an integrated approach to understanding tribal knowledge about the diverse history, government-to-government relationship, community, culture, and social needs of American Indians in California and the U.S. with the goal of working effectively with and for tribal communities as they interface with non-Indian communities to exercise tribal sovereignty.

The American Indian Studies Department values tribal knowledge as place-based, autonomous, and linked to core values of respect, reciprocity, relationships, and responsibility. Our Core Values inform our program student learning outcomes.

  • Core Value #1: Responsibility: Create culturally intelligent and competent students who decolonize and deconstruct dominant cultural colonial paradigms and perspectives by identifying, explaining, and distinguishing between diverse American Indian epistemologies across multiple fields of study to develop life and career skills.
  • Core Value #2: Relationships: Describe and apply authentic, empathetic, and innovative solutions to real world issues that affect American Indian lifeways by combining learning and innovation skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
  • Core Value #3: Reciprocity: Analyze, synthesize, and apply American Indian Studies’ theoretical frameworks in experiential and/or community engagement and research to support tribal community needs and programs by utilizing experiential learning frameworks to activate change.
  • Core Value #4: Respect:  Utilize appropriate analytical and research strategies to critically assess a variety of knowledge and information from a variety of diverse resources to evaluate the legal, political, ethical, and social efficacy of American Indian Studies methods to create and/or sustain change in American Indian communities.
    • PSLO 1: Describe the legal foundations of American Indian political identity through an analysis of tribal sovereignty.
    • PSLO 2: Apply American Indian epistemologies and other forms of knowledge to evaluate contemporary issues in American Indian communities.
    • PSLO 3: Recognize and evaluate the historical, cultural, social, economic and political contributions of American Indian leaders, writers, artists, and activists.
    • PSLO 4: Identify stereotypes about American Indian peoples and explain their historical production and contemporary manifestation.
    • PSLO 5: Apply research skills through community engagement and experiential learning environment to communicate knowledge about American Indian sovereignty.

AIS provides a bridge between campus and community activities and engagement. Our goal is to create culturally intelligent graduates who will contribute to the regional workforce, including working for Tribal Nations, in meaningful ways. All of our courses include tribal community engagement—with guest lectures, field trips, participatory research, and service learning activities. See our list of more than 30 courses