Established in June of 1969, the Department of American Indian Studies is the oldest such program in the country with departmental status. Founded amidst the civil rights struggles of the sixties and early seventies, the program has long been committed to the development of theories and methodologies that reflect American Indian perspectives and it embraces ways of knowing that stand in contrast to the linear analytic Euro-American studies typically found in colleges and universities.
The department's base of formally educated and institutionally trained academicians is being supplemented increasingly by community resource people, including traditional leaders, elders and American Indian artists, writers, film makers, and musicians. Incorporation of such contributors into the teaching program acknowledges unique cultural wisdom and skills that are not typically available in formal, western institutions, but that are nonetheless essential to an understanding of American Indian cultures.
The department's curriculum serves individuals throughout CLA and the University community, particularly by enabling students to meet requirements in the areas of cultural diversity and liberal education. A wide variety of courses is also provided through Continuing Education and Extension, both on the Twin Cities campus and at the Community Center established by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux.
For academic majors at the University of Minnesota, two "tracks" are available, one of which is based on mastery of one of the indigenous languages taught by the department—usually Dakota or Ojibwe. Majors also choose from a wide variety of courses, covering American Indian literature, art, philosophies, and socio-economic issues. Independent study options and special experiential learning opportunities are available to address students' particular career needs and interests.