Our History

Continuing a Significant Legacy

American Studies classroom discussion.

Graduate seminar led by Professor John Mohawk (Seneca), left  

The Department of Indigenous Studies builds on UB’s longstanding legacy as a key location for Haudenosaunee and Indigenous studies. Housed within the former Department of American Studies, UB’s Native American and Indigenous Studies programming has been defined by its emphasis on the transformative potential of grassroots-oriented activist scholarship and research. 

More specifically, its programs have centered on Haudenosaunee knowledge as a lens for looking at Indigeneity in broader national and global contexts. Many individuals have come to study at UB because they value and respect the positioning of Native Studies here. While other institutions have developed Indigenous Studies programming using a more pan-Indian approach, anchoring the focus in the culture of the lands upon which a university operates is extremely important. 

Inspired by the modern and universal relevance of Haudenosaunee knowledge, the department seeks to advance purposeful Indigenous-centered scholarship with a global impact. Points of distinction include:

  • Prioritizing Indigenous community-guided research.
  • Supporting Indigenous language resurgence, particularly in ways that recognize the success and expertise of on-territory Indigenous language immersion programs
  • Prioritizing land-based education and research, and developing a curriculum that emphasizes Indigenous history, epistemology, philosophy and contemporary political theory and action with regard to Indigenous land-based relationships 

Building upon a 50-year tradition at UB

K.C. Kratt; American Studies faculty, 1987; 24.4x16cm; Copyright 1987 University at Buffalo.

UB American Studies faculty, 1987

The Department of Indigenous Studies will build on UB’s prior reputation in Native American Studies and specifically Haudenosaunee Studies. Housed within the Department of American Studies, the strength of this program is attributed to the legacies of Haudenosaunee scholars, activists, and educators including John Mohawk (Seneca), Oren Lyons (Onondaga), Barry White (Seneca), Marilyn Schindler (Seneca), Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora), Scott Manning Stevens (Mohawk), and Rick Hill (Tuscarora).

The Native American Studies program within the Department of American Studies grew to achieve national recognition and was once known as the strongest university program this side of the Mississippi River. Indigenous scholars in UB’s program have distinguished themselves as dedicated participants and spokespeople in Native rights and liberation movements across Canada and the U.S., including the occupation at Wounded Knee, the Trail of Broken Treaties, and the Oka Crisis. UB Professor John Mohawk, founder of UB’s Native American Studies Program, was one of the foremost Haudenosaunee scholars of his generation and a leading advocate for the rights of Indigenous people worldwide. His foundational series of position papers, “The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World,” was presented in 1977 at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. John Mohawk and SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus Oren Lyons were leading proponents of the United Nations working group on Indigenous populations, which led to the establishment of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Oren Lyons was also a key architect of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and he received awards from the United Nations and the Rosa Parks Institute for his work on environmental justice and human rights. The new department seeks to build on and extend the impact of this legacy and the work of its faculty. 

American Studies professor John Mohawk, 1988; 18.5x18.3cm; Copyright 1988 University at Buffalo.

The late Professor John Mohawk (Seneca)

American Studies professor Oren Lyons, 1978; 11.9x16.8cm; Copyright 1978 University at Buffalo.

American Studies Professor Oren Lyons, 1978

A portrait of Marilyn Schindler, a member of the Seneca Nation and a lecturer at UB in the 1970s, taken in August 2020 outside Clemens Hall on North Campus. Schindler helped to create the Native American Studies Program at the university and she recently received a doctorate in American studies from UB. Photographer: Douglas Levere.

American Studies Professor Marilyn Schindler (Seneca)

Rick Hill.

American Studies Professor Rick Hill (Tuscarora)

A faculty member in their office looking at slides.

American Studies alumna and Professor of Art History, Jolene Rickard (Tuscarora)

Barry White.

American Studies Professor Barry White

Yvonne Dion-Buffalo.

American Studies Professor Yvonne Dion-Buffalo (Cree)