When Kurt Peters and Clarissa Bertha meet with members of Oregon’s Native American communities, they expect a crowd. The issues can include economic development, natural resources, education, child welfare and opportunities for students. Since these topics are interconnected, many community members take an interest.
Peters directs OSU’s new Native American Collaborative Institute (NACI), and Bertha and NACI staff member Chris Bowman write grant proposals to fund joint projects between OSU and Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes. "We are addressing the growing positions that tribal groups have in business and economic development," says Peters, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies. "If they’re going to partner with us, they want to become a training ground for their students. Their view is holistic When we meet, the entire community comes into the room."
Native communities put a high priority on education. "They are proud of the schools they have established," says Peters. So at the college level, it is important that students participate in collaborative research. For example, a proposed effort with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla focuses on child welfare. If funded, that project may involve OSU students who grew up on the reservation. Other joint projects with the tribes have looked at water diversions, fisheries, cattle ranching and agriculture.
While OSU has collaborated with Native American communities in the past, the institute facilitates the flow of information. In addition, NACI is developing a partnership with the Center for Indigenous Cultural Survival (CICS) at the University of Oregon. The center has worked in Southeast Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand, says CICS board member Mitch Wilkinson. Together, the two organizations could offer a link between Oregon’s tribes and other indigenous people. Wilkinson teaches in the College of Agricultural Sciences at OSU.
"It’s exciting to be a part of something that has so much potential for all of Oregon’s tribes," says Wilkinson.