MSU Native American Studies receives international accreditation
BOZEMAN – The Montana State University Department of Native American Studies has received accreditation from the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium, making it one of the first Indigenous programs at a mainstream institution to receive the designation.
Walter Fleming, chair of the Department of Native American Studies, announced the accreditation at the opening of MSU’s American Indian Hall on Oct. 16. A WINHEC accreditation team visited MSU the week of the building’s grand opening.
Fleming said that WINHEC accreditation, which is valid for five years, signals to potential students, tribal communities and other institutions worldwide that MSU has made Native American students and programs a priority in recruitment and retention.
“And it validates the importance of the work that we have been doing in teaching, community based participatory research and helping our students succeed,” Fleming said.
The international group’s accreditation team praised MSU’s Department of Native American Studies for its support and commitment to “the jewel that is Montana.”
“We commend and acknowledge their dedication to the Native People of Montana, as has been evidenced in their application of Indian Education for All and service to the Elders Council,” the accreditation committee wrote in its report, referring to the state’s Indian Education for All program and the MSU Council of Tribal Elders.
“Further, we thank Montana State University, Bozeman, as it grows in service to the Native People for their continued support of the Native American Studies Department.”
In preparing for the accreditation team’s visit, MSU was asked to file a self-study in which the department identified its focus on developing a model of student well-being.
“And now our actions will be guided by that goal,” Fleming said.
Kristin Ruppel, professor in the Department of Native American Studies, helped organize MSU’s WINHEC accreditation process. She said a team of students, faculty and staff has been working for two years to prepare for the WINHEC accreditation and site visit, which was delayed one year by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ruppel said MSU received provisional WINHEC accreditation in 2009, but that the organization developed new guidelines for accreditation for mainstream institutions such as MSU as opposed to tribal colleges. During that time. Since then, MSU’s Native American enrollment increased by four-fold, from about 200 students to 800.
WINHEC is the accreditation body for Indigenous education initiatives and systems throughout the world that identifies common practices, criteria and principles by which Indigenous people live, according to its website, winhec.org. Fort Peck Community College, a tribal college, is the only other institution in Montana accredited by WINHEC.
“Ultimately, this accreditation allows us to expand our programming into the international arena, with the help of our WINHEC colleagues,” Fleming said.
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