Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Daily Lobo The Independent Voice of UNM since 1895
Latest Issue
Read our print edition on Issuu

Native American Studies faculty find different rewards from work

With only six faculty members, UNM’s Native American Studies Department has a relatively small group of faculty, but their research subjects are many.

Minthorn works for both the Native American Studies and Education departments and, ever since she came to UNM in 2012, focuses on leadership. She said her favorite class to teach is one she created, centered on principles of leadership in an indigenous context.

“I think a lot of times when we’re taught about leadership it’s from a Western perspective, and so this class takes that away,” Minthorn said. “It helps students to see themselves as leaders as opposed to being told that they are only a leader if they are able to be in a tribal leadership position.”

Minthorn just finished a manuscript on reclaiming indigenous research in academic work, she said, in which she also explored student movements, and the challenges they face when trying to change institutions.

“I’m trying to go back and look at the historical context of how UNM and historians even have disincluded indigenous peoples in the history of the University,” Minthorn said. “So we’re starting to see more research around that, as well as the impact of this movement on Native students, and having to push the regents and push multiple people and educate them, while at the same time being students and being people.”

Minthorn is the faculty advisor for KIVA Club and said she has seen students deal with those challenges first hand, particularly in the student group’s ongoing campaign to abolish UNM’s official seal.

“I think a lot of times we forget about they’re having to balance all of these things and the impact that has on them,” she said.

Tiffany Lee, the associate director for Native American Studies, has worked at UNM since 2003 and was part of the team that created the proposal for a Native American Studies major, which was implemented in 2004.

“Student’s find NAS as sort of a home away from home,” Lee said. “It also stimulates their critical consciousness about issues that they’ve seen their community but didn’t really understood. But now that they’ve taken the courses and are knowledgeable about from colonization and the policies that were generated from that period to now.”

Lee said her work focuses on issues related to revitalizing indigenous languages. She interviews language learners and language teachers about their experiences.

“Students who are Navajo taking a Navajo language, they have a different connection to it than if they were taking French or Spanish because it’s part of their heritage, it’s part of their culture,” she said. “They know that their community values it.”

She is about to begin a large study on language immersion schools and their impact academically, culturally and socially.

Enjoy what you're reading?
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox

“Those schools really struggle in trying to maintain their focus on language immersion because of the big emphasis in schools now on English language reading and writing and math,” she said. “A lot of the standardized tests are all about that, so they struggle with that.”

However, Lee said her study will further explore the successes and challenges of schools.

Lloyd Lee — who has worked at UNM for nine years and began with a focus on identity — has expanded his research to include indigenous masculinities, community planning, leadership and native philosophies.

“One of the reasons why it’s kind of broad in that sense is when I was going through my doctoral study and doing my dissertation on native studies, I chose to do interviews and interviewing expanded my mind on how a lot of those things are interconnected and related in how it pertains to identity,” he said.

Lloyd Lee said he became a professor because it lets him learn more about issues that affect native communities.

“I wanted to work with Native students, I wanted to work with native issues and to me that discipline, that field would give me the greatest opportunity to do that,” Lee said.

While h said he loves teaching politics of identity, he also enjoys classes on tribal governance and nation building, he said.

“They’re tied into the idea of community building, nation building and getting students to think about, what are the goals, what are the objectives of our native communities, what are they working on, what should they be working on,” Lloyd Lee said.

In his nine years with the department, he said he has seen the program continually grow.

Tiffany Lee said Native American studies can help students use their education to sustain their community.

Minthorn said she is grateful to work with such passionate colleagues as Tiffany Lee and Lloyd Lee, but what primarily drives her is a more personal connection to her work, reflecting why many students also become involved in the program.

“My grandparents on my mother’s side, one only had a high school diploma and my grandfather only had an eighth grade education, but they both really believed a lot in education and what it could do, not only for us as individuals but for the whole people and community. That inspired me to want to continue on to want to do my Phd and to want to complete it,” Minthorn said. “So I do carry pictures of my grandparents actually in my backpack, because if I forget where I came from I can look at those pictures.”

Cathy Cook is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at or on Twitter @Cathy_Daily.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2023 The Daily Lobo