First Director Named to Lead American Indian Center at UNC

A history professor at the University of Oklahoma who has directed that university’s Native American Studies program has been hired as the director of the American Indian Center at UNC. Clara Sue Kidwell, who was selected after a nationwide search, will begin July 1.

Kidwell, whose tribal affiliations are Choctaw and Chippewa, was the assistant director for cultural resources at the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, for two years before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., in 1995. She received her doctorate in history of science from the University of Oklahoma in 1970.

“The prospect of creating a new center on the Chapel Hill campus is very exciting, and I am looking forward to getting acquainted with people there and in the Indian communities in the state,” Kidwell said. “My vision for the center is that it will become a strong resource to disseminate information, to keep people informed about Indian-related events and research on the campus and support the development of new initiatives. It can also help to create a bridge between the intellectual and scholarly resources of the university and the Indian communities in North Carolina.”

UNC’s American Indian Center, which initially will be housed in Abernethy Hall, will be one of the only centers on the East Coast to focus solely on American Indian issues and research. As director, Kidwell will collaborate with faculty, students and staff to initiate new programs, continue outreach to American Indian communities and raise funds for the center.

“Under Dr. Kidwell’s leadership, our new American Indian Center will enable Carolina’s faculty, students and staff to explore the rich cultural and historical legacy of the state’s first people and will allow us to better serve American Indian communities on campus, across the state and beyond,” said Bernadette Gray-Little, executive vice chancellor and provost.

“Dr. Kidwell is an accomplished senior scholar in the field of Native American Studies and deeply experienced in the leadership of academic programs related to American Indians,” added Harry Watson, chair of the search committee and director of the Center for the Study of the American South at Carolina. “Her forthcoming book, a history of the Choctaw Nation, is notable in its intent to serve both as a scholarly work and a means to give members of that nation a deeper understanding of their place in Oklahoma history.”

The objectives of the center, as outlined by the Provost’s Committee on Native American Issues, include:

  • Establishing a leadership institute for North Carolina tribal leaders, in collaboration with the UNC School of Government;
  • Helping faculty and student researchers partner with native communities;
  • Including native perspectives and cultures in UNC research projects;
  • Communicating regularly with American Indian tribal leaders and communities;
  • Sponsoring and facilitating activities that give visibility to and provide learning opportunities regarding American Indian cultures, histories and perspectives; and
  • Promoting inclusion of native people and perspective in campus dialogues.

“The breadth and depth of Dr. Kidwell’s experience will allow her to develop the center into an organization that will greatly enrich the intellectual life of the campus through its programming and outreach efforts and that will serve as a bridge between campus and community,” said Carol Tresolini, associate provost for academic initiatives at Carolina.

North Carolina is home to the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River. In 2005, the U.S. Census estimated the state’s total population at just less than 8.7 million, with 1.3 percent, or about 113,100, listed as American Indians and Alaskan natives.

The UNC student body mirrors that percentage. In fall 2006, American Indian students numbered 219, nearly 1 percent of total enrollment. American Indian students and faculty at Carolina include members of the state’s eight tribes as well as tribes from across the United States and Canada.

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