Students with an interest in indigenous cultures can finally put their coursework toward a minor with the opening of the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program, offered by the Religious Studies Dept.

The minor, which first became available to students this quarter, incorporates classes from several disciplines, including religious studies, anthropology, Chicano studies, film studies and linguistics, Religious Studies Undergraduate Adviser Deborah McCleister said. To declare the minor or receive more information about its course requirements, students can visit the Religious Studies Dept. in the Humanities and Social Sciences Building.

American Indian Cultural Services Coordinator Leslie Koda said students in the minor will also study Native American linguistics, ceremonies, art and literature. She said students who have already fulfilled the minor’s requirements can graduate with the American Indian and Indigenous Studies degree this year, even if they did not know about the minor until recently.

Chicano Studies Professor Gerardo Aldana said students and faculty have been pushing for a Native American Studies program since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, when they petitioned the university for the addition of several cultural studies programs to the course catalogue. He said students’ efforts in the ’60s led to the creation of Chicano Studies and Black Studies programs, but an emphasis in Native American Studies was omitted.

Because of the recent efforts of religious studies professor Inez Talamantez, who submitted a proposal for the program to a general UCSB faculty committee, the American Indian and Indigenous Studies minor was approved.

“There has been a long-standing lack of Native American studies at UCSB,” Aldana said. “This finally acknowledges their contribution and culture.”

UC Davis is currently the only UC to have a four-year Native American Studies major, while Santa Barbara City College offers an associate degree in the field. Koda said she hopes the university’s decision to open the new minor is a step toward creating an American Indian and Indigenous Studies department and major at UCSB.

“This is just one step in a flight of stairs and the development of a major,” Koda said. “It allows [some] students to learn about others and some about themselves. It is an important academic arena for all students.”

Koda said more than 160 UCSB students identify themselves as Native Americans. She said she hopes the new minor will help these students research their backgrounds and family lines.

“Sometimes, being in class is the student’s first perspective into their culture,” Koda said. “There is potential for them to be more involved in where they came from.”

The minor complements other academic fields because it gives students a chance to put a Native American emphasis on other subjects that they’re studying, Koda said.

“For example, a student may use the minor as an enhancement to an environmental studies major and study the land and water issues of Indian tribes,” Koda said.

Koda said students in the minor will have the chance to participate in programs directed by American Indian Cultural Services – a UCSB informational resource for Native Americans and people interested in the culture – as well as those run by local American Indian advocacy groups. During one such program, students voiced their objections to a proposed housing development plan involving construction on ceremonial Chumash land in the San Marcos Foothills.

Aldana said he thinks the addition of the minor will allow students to study history and culture from a new angle.

“This gives scholarship a different lens, not the same frame of traditional disciplines,” Aldana said. “It teaches students how to understand the same issues from an indigenous perspective.”