Putting the Indian Back in Indiana 

Conference to focus on Native America issues

Indiana, the “land of the Indians,” hasn’t paid a lot of attention to those for whom it was named since half of the Miami nation was removed to Kansas in 1846. But nearly 40,000 Native American Indians from more than 150 different tribes were counted here in the 2000 census. Such numbers have proven to be plenty for other states to develop special programs to serve Indian needs, especially those of children, but in Indiana almost none have even been attempted. To address this lack of attention, no small number of Indiana’s American Indians, along with educators, students and the interested public, will gather at IUPUI on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 28-29, for the first Indiana Native American Education Conference, “Putting Our Minds Together.” 

The group will begin to tackle several issues, from the paucity of Indian education plans in K-12 schools to the lack of comprehensive Native American studies programs in the state’s colleges and universities. And the state, though eligible, currently misses out on federal funding for Indian students. Johnny Flynn (Potawatomi), IUPUI lecturer in religious studies and central organizer of the conference, suggests that this lapse most likely has occurred because Indians “are a hidden minority, without a voice in the educational process.”

Many of the conference activities will explore the few existing programs that do try to address these lacks. The Pokagon Potawatomis conduct a small but successful K-12 program in northern Indiana. Purdue University has funded the Tecumseh Project to recruit Native American students into its science and engineering programs. IUPUI’s School of Liberal Arts is in the process of creating a Native American Studies program.  

And Indiana University’s “Indian profile” will probably go up thanks to the presence of new head basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, a Lumbee Indian. Sampson will offer the conference’s keynote address on Thursday from 5-6 p.m. in University College room 115.

Friday’s conference events promise perhaps even livelier discussion. Former IU President Myles Brand, now president of the NCAA, will appear at 1 p.m. on Friday in the University Library’s Lilly Auditorium to discuss the contentious “mascot issue” and other matters of American Indians and college athletics. At 3 p.m., the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission, recently reconstituted after early “birthing pains,” will meet in an informational public forum in the auditorium.

Thursday night at 6:45 p.m., Grammy Award-winning Native American musician Bill Miller will offer a benefit concert for an over-21 audience at Radio Radio, 1119 E. Prospect St. Tickets are $15. See our Music section for more on Bill Miller.

All other conference events are free and open to the public. Contact Flynn at jopflynn@iupui.edu for a complete conference schedule.

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