The Applied Indigenous Studies department at Northern Arizona University gives Native American students the knowledge and tools to become change agents in their communities.

NAU degrees enhance Native cultures; fill workforce gaps

Like preparing a cornfield, Northern Arizona University is sowing the seeds to plant jobs in Indigenous communities. 

The Applied Indigenous Studies program is growing a workforce that addresses the unique aspects of Nation-building, leadership, governance and self-determination.

“Graduates from our one-of-a-kind program are ready to apply what they’ve learned to solving real-world problems facing Indigenous country,” says Karen Jarratt-Snider (Choctaw), Chair of Applied Indigenous Studies. “The AIS program applies Native ways of knowing for the benefits of Indigenous communities within the United States and abroad.” 

The AIS degree program prepares graduates to enter career opportunities within Native Nations or organizations that serve Native Nations and communities. Students also use the program to pursue careers in law enforcement, court advocacy, government administration, and tribal management.

An Applied Indigenous Studies bachelor’s degree is focused on workforce development in four key areas: 1) tribal policy, politics, and administration 2) indigenous environmental science, health, and management 3) cultural resource management, indigenous knowledge, and expressive culture and 4) sustainable economic development and indigenous entrepreneurship.

Graduates become business owners, attorneys, community organizers, higher education professionals, teachers, elected officials and environmental justice advocates. 

Adding an Applied Indigenous Studies minor to any major is a useful career addition. Minors prepare graduates to engage with tribal communities and apply the skills from their major in to a local, regional, state and federal situation. Minors include Applied Indigenous Health Studies, Native American Studies or Tribal Public Administration. 

“The Wolf of Indian Country once told me that my degree does not belong to me. It belongs to the people, the people of Indian Country,” says Sara Johanntoberns (Kiowa/Caddo/Pawnee) about earning her NAU degree. 

For current students as well as professionals who desire training in leadership, governance, administration and management within Indigenous communities, NAU offers an Indigenous and Tribal Nation-building  graduate certificate.

Online Indian Country Criminal Justice degree is only program of its kind 

To meet the need for workforce growth in criminal justice careers, NAU faculty developed an online Indian Country Criminal Justice bachelor’s degree for the Applied Indigenous Studies program. They worked with leaders of Indigenous Nations, along with NAU’s Department of Criminology and its Justice program, to create the unique bachelor’s degree. 

“It’s the only program of its kind in the world,” Jarratt-Snider says. 

Faculty include Navajo, Choctaw, Kahnawake Mohawk, Spokane, and Pascua Yaqui. Students learn about applying federal laws, criminal jurisdiction, advocacy, court administration and policing pedagogy – vital skills to solving crimes in Indigenous communities. They learn to navigate issues facing Indigenous cultures, such as missing and murdered Indigenous people. 

Jason Yazzie, (Navajo/Diné), is majoring in Indian Country Criminal Justice. “The program offers a vivid understanding of what justice is in Indian Country,” he says. “Most interestingly, I’m learning that Indian Nations have the capacity to shape their futures. We are still very much in the infancy of Nation building, and that realization brings a lot of hope and excitement.”

Yazzie plans a career as a probation officer. He wants to provide resources and meaningful avenues for those who need them. “I am going to use my degree to help the Navajo people, especially those who find themselves within the confines of the justice system.”

ICCJ student testimony: Justice degree for ‘the people’ 

When Sara Johanntoberns (Kiowa/Caddo/Pawnee) was growing up, her mother was at Fort Lewis College studying issues facing Indian Country, and she would share what she was learning with her children. By her side, Sara became inspired to seek solutions for Indian Country challenges—a journey that led her to the Indian Country Criminal Justice bachelor’s degree program at Northern Arizona University.  

“My mother would read the books from her courses to me and my brother before bed, books written by Vine Deloria, Jr., Robert Williams, Jr., Raymond Austin, and many other Indigenous scholars,” Johanntoberns says. “Those books talked about problems in Indian Country. The problems that stood out to me were in the criminal justice system.

I didn’t know anything about federal Indian law and policy. In fact, I couldn’t believe that Native Nations had a specific field of law and policy. This prompted me to ask what caused this? How did this happen? What can I do to help Indian Country? These questions eventually led me to the Indian Country Criminal Justice (ICCJ) Program at Northern Arizona University.”

At NAU, Indian Country Criminal Justice courses provide insight into the problems within the criminal justice systems in Indian Country. Students study the federal, state, local and tribal systems. Coursework includes studying related media, court cases and Indian policy and is combined with materials crucial in helping students identify issues and formulate solutions. 

“After completing the ICCJ Program, I plan to go to law school and pursue a career in Indian law. I hope that my educational journey will inspire the youth to pursue higher education,” Johanntoberns says. “The Wolf of Indian Country once told me that my degree does not belong to me. It belongs to the people, the people of Indian Country.”


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