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Scholar of Native American writing to lead American Indian Studies Program


Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Robert Warrior, a scholar of Native American writing and intellectual history, will become the next director of the American Indian Studies Program and the Native American House at the University of Illinois.

Warrior, currently the Edith Kinney Gaylord Presidential Professor and professor of English at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, will begin his new duties in the fall semester, upon approval of the U. of I. Board of Trustees.

Born in Kansas of an Osage Nation father, Warrior is the author or co-author of four books, including the most recent, “American Indian Literary Nationalism.” He has written dozens of published articles, essays and chapters.

Warrior also has given more than 75 invited talks in the U.S. and in Canada, France, Germany, Guatemala, Malaysia, Mexico and Switzerland.

Before joining the faculty at Oklahoma in 2003, Warrior taught at Stanford and Cornell universities and at the Univérsité de Blaise Pascal in France.

He earned a doctorate and a master of philosophy at the Union Theological Seminary in New York; a master’s in religion at Yale University’s Divinity School; and a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in speech communication, from Pepperdine University in California.

Warrior will have a joint appointment with the English department. At AIS, he succeeds LeAnne Howe, who has served since August 2007, and who will continue as a professor of English and of American Indian studies at Illinois.

Warrior was chosen because “he is a leader in our field,” Howe said.

“Robert’s scholarship and commitment to the production of scholarship by American Indians and indigenous peoples are but a few of the reasons our program wanted to bring him to the University of Illinois. We are delighted that he agreed to join us and help build the finest American Indian Studies program in the country.”

American Indian Studies at Illinois is an interdisciplinary program of teaching and research involving the experiences and values of American Indian communities and Nations. A curriculum for American Indian Studies that incorporates a range of theories, methodologies and teaching approaches was begun in 2006 and now includes 11 courses. The Native American House is a student services center.

Warrior said that he has spent his career in English departments, and that he hopes to “continue developing the next generation of scholars of Native American literature through the graduate program in English at Illinois.”

He described Illinois’ English department as “very strong” – already having “some of the best writers and critics in the field of Native literary studies, so I am pleased at the prospect of contributing to what’s happening there.”

Warrior said he was convinced that coming to Illinois was the right thing for him “primarily because American Indian Studies at Illinois is establishing a national reputation as a place where excellent scholarship in Native and indigenous studies is being done by a growing group of outstanding faculty.”

“Assuming leadership of American Indian Studies provides an opportunity to help focus the tremendous energy that Illinois has generated in the field, and build a great, nationally prominent program.”

He said he has a strong belief that began when he was in graduate school that “American Indian studies deserves to have a place at the table academically and ought to be the focus of efforts like what is happening at Illinois.”

Warrior said his first priority as director at Illinois will be in faculty development.

“Successful programs are built around great faculty, and one of my responsibilities will be creating an environment where faculty thrive and grow in their research and teaching.”

Warrior said he also will be dedicated to forging strong relationships between the U. of I. and off-campus stakeholders in American Indian and indigenous studies locally, regionally and nationally.

“I hope to create opportunities, for instance, through a board of visitors, for the program to develop productive relationships with constituencies in reservation, urban and other Native communities.”

Warrior’s wife, Margaret Kelley, will be joining Illinois’ sociology department; her appointment also is subject to the approval of the board of trustees.

Prior to Howe’s tenure, Wanda Pillow, a professor of education at Illinois, was director of NAH/AIS from May 2004 to August of 2007. She coordinated the initial infrastructure, hiring and development of the units.

Professors Brenda Farnell, anthropology, and Fred Hoxie, history, served as interim directors before Pillow, during the academic year 2003 and 2004. Among other things, they oversaw and coordinated the initial opening of the Native American House.

According to Pillow, the development and leadership of NAH/AIS has been a “community effort,” especially during the initial development years.

“Before the official development committee, there had been years of work by Native students and staff to establish a space for Native students here,” Pillow said.

“We had office space on Green Street and held the first Native Student Congratulatory Ceremony there,” Pillow said.

A Committee on Native American Programming (CONAP) was officially recognized by Nancy Cantor, the chancellor at the time, in 2002, and it worked diligently, Pillow said, to establish NAH/AIS. Committee members were Farnell, Hoxie and Pillow; John McKinn, who now is associate director of NAH/AIS; Durango Mendoza, special assistant to the director; Robert Parker, English; and Debbie Reese, AIS.