Exploring Collections Related to ISU’s American Indian Heritage

In 1990, U.S. President George H.W. Bush designated November as National American Indian Heritage Month, a tradition that has continued although the name has evolved to Native American Heritage Month. In Washington, DC, the month is commemorated by events and exhibits at institutions such as The Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian Institutions, among others.

Members of White Roots of Peace, a traveling American Indian interest group, participated in the 1973 Symposium on the American Indian

Members of White Roots of Peace, a traveling American Indian interest group, participated in the 1973 Symposium on the American Indian (RS 22/3/0/1)

In December 1970, the Iowa State Daily announced the formation of the United Native American Student Association (UNASA). Its first president, Don Wanatee, stated that the group was established “to foster… understanding” of American Indians,” and to “bring different ideas and information about the American Indian to the University and the general public.” At UNASA’s January 1971 meeting, Wanatee spoke about environmental problems at the Meskwaki Indian Settlement, an early step towards that goal. The group held an annual Symposium on the American Indian as well as an annual campus Native American Week that began in April 1972 and lasted through at least 2005, according to Iowa State Daily articles. In addition to academic lectures, the symposiums often included film screenings, traditional dance performances, and events for children. More information about UNASA is available in RS 22/3/0/1, Student Organizations Records.

I would be remiss in discussing the role of Iowa State’s Native American students if I did not mention notable Native American rights leader and academic Vine Deloria, Jr. A 1958 graduate of Iowa State, Deloria also held a master’s degree in theology and a law degree; his writings also reflected these interdisciplinary interests, covering topics including religion, mythology, law, history, philosophy, and government. Oxford University Press’s American National Biography provides a biography of Deloria that provides information about many facets of his life’s work, from a three-year stint as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians to the nearly 30 years that he spent teaching courses on American Indian studies, political science, and the history of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Arizona, and the University of Colorado. In honor of Deloria’s contributions, Iowa State’s American Indian Studies Program awards the Vine Deloria Jr. Teaching, Research, and Service Award on an annual basis. Iowa State University Library carries a number of Deloria’s books, of course, including several e-books that ISU students, faculty, and staff can check out and read from the comfort of home.

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