Writing, history scholar to take over as Indian Studies director
CHAMPAIGN – Robert Warrior first visited the University of Illinois in 1992 to talk about contemporary issues facing American Indians – economic development, tribal government reform and the like.
Most of his audience wanted to talk about Chief Illiniwek. A visit in 1996 turned out much the same way.
Fast forward a decade or so. The Chief is retired, and Warrior has accepted a job as the new director of the UI's American Indian Studies Program and Native American House. A scholar of American Indian writing and intellectual history at the University of Oklahoma, Warrior will begin his new duties at the UI next fall, upon approval by UI trustees.
"What attracted me is the intellectual and institutional energy around American Indian and indigenous studies at the University of Illinois. I've been impressed by the way the university has developed this academic program," Warrior said in a phone interview Monday.
Ten years ago, he said, "I found it a really disheartening place to try to talk about American Indian studies."
"One of the things that helped me make up my mind to come was the recent developments regarding the Chief," he said. "I don't know if I would have come otherwise. I just think it would have been a much different calculus for me and my family."
Warrior is the Edith Kinney Gaylord Presidential Professor and a professor of English at Oklahoma, where he joined the faculty in 2003. He has also taught at Stanford and Cornell universities and the Universite de Blaise Pascal in France.
Born in Kansas to an Osage Nation father, Warrior is the author or co-author of four books, with his most recent called "American Indian Literary Nationalism." He has written dozens of published articles, essays and chapters.
Warrior has also given more than 75 invited talks in the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Guatemala, Malaysia, Mexico and Switzerland.
"He is a leader in our field," said LeAnne Howe, interim director of the American Indian Studies program since last August. "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."
Warrior said the UI's American Indian Studies program is gaining a national reputation as a place of "excellent scholarship" by a growing group of outstanding faculty. He hopes to focus that energy and build a nationally prominent program.
Warrior will have a joint appointment with the English department, which he said has "some of the best writers and critics in the field of Native literary studies." He's spent his career in English departments and hopes to continue developing the next generation of scholars of American Indian literature here.
"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," he said in the news release.
His first priority as director will be faculty development. Successful programs are built around great faculty, he said, and he hopes to foster growth in research and teaching.
He will also try to forge strong relationships between the UI and off-campus stakeholders in American Indian and indigenous studies locally, regionally and nationally. One idea is a "board of visitors" to help the program develop relationships with constituents on reservations, urban areas and other native communities.
American Indian Studies at Illinois is an interdisciplinary program on the experiences and values of American Indian communities and nations. A curriculum for American Indian Studies began in 2006 and now includes 11 courses. The Native American House is a student services center.
Before Howe's tenure, Wanda Pillow, a UI professor of education, directed American Indian Studies and the cultural house from May 2004 to August 2007. She coordinated the initial infrastructure, hiring and development of the units.
A Committee on Native American Programming was officially recognized by then-Chancellor Nancy Cantor in 2002, after years of efforts by American Indian students and staff to create a space for students on campus.
Warrior said without the Chief's retirement, he would likely have had to play the same role as Pillow and others, pushing the UI to drop the controversial symbol. Though there are still Chief supporters out there, he said, "the institution itself won't have to be convinced to do the right thing. I think it has."
Warrior earned a doctorate and a master's degree in philosophy at the Union Theological Seminary in New York and a master's in religion at Yale University's Divinity School, where he pursued the study of Christianity. He also holds a bachelor's degree in speech communication from Pepperdine University in California.
Warrior's wife, Margaret Kelley, will be joining Illinois' sociology department, subject to approval of trustees.