Behind the Indigenous Engagement Grant from Mellon

24 January 2024

Back in the spring of 2021, when I was preparing to assume the role of president of Carleton, I recall being amazed to learn that over 100 faculty and staff were taking part in a series of study sessions through the Perlman Learning and Teaching Center on the history of Dakota people in this area. I couldn’t believe that at a time when busy faculty and staff colleagues were already stretched thin by the pandemic, so many would voluntarily choose to take on extra reading and Zoom sessions.

That level of community commitment to deepening our understanding of Indigenous history and culture has led to some remarkable developments in the three years since then –  in particular, yesterday’s announcement that Carleton has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to fund Indigenous Engagement in Place, a project that will expand curricular and scholarly collaborations with Indigenous partners to enliven learning, teaching, and public scholarship in the humanities and across the liberal arts.

A great deal of time, expertise, and discussion went into developing the successful Mellon proposal and envisioning the programs that it will support. Building on the success of efforts like the Elder-in-Residence program, the project calls for thoughtful engagement with Indigenous partners. For example, the proposal included Carleton’s commitment to hiring a postdoctoral fellow to help support our efforts in developing a robust Native American and Indigenous Studies curriculum that brings in multiple disciplinary perspectives, including Environmental Studies and American Studies, and engages members of Native communities nearby in collaborative research projects. A foundational goal of the program is to ensure that such partnerships are deeply respectful and mutually beneficial.

Often, grant proposals seek to make large claims about what the institution will accomplish if funds are awarded. In this case, colleagues working on the proposal were careful to emphasize the need for humility in approaching potential partners and in outlining our goals in this area. Looking at the multiple drafts that evolved over many months was a learning experience for me, as I watched the careful development of collaborative ideas and thoughtful engagement of other voices. I am grateful to the colleagues who led this successful effort, particularly Michael McNally, Meredith McCoy, and Marcy Averill, as well as to Christopher Tassava and the Grants Office, for their hard work and persistence. It will be exciting to see this program unfold in the years to come.

Featured in Carleton Today, January 25, 2024