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Explore Native American History & Culture

Thousands of years before 1492, when Christopher Columbus’ ships first arrived in the Bahamas, tribes — now known as Native American — discovered and developed America. In fact, scholars estimate that more than 50 million people were already living in the Americas by the 15th century, including more than 10 million in what would become the United States.

Heritage Matters to You, Personally and Professionally

If you are of Native American heritage, their history and culture is yours. Your heritage is a vital part of your identity and gives you a sense of belonging; extensive knowledge of it has been shown to have positive effects on your academic performance, self-esteem and productivity throughout life. Yet throughout American history, generations of Native Americans were denied the birthright of understanding their history and culture due to former U.S. government policies to assimilate them at the expense of preserving their heritage.

Even in recent decades, misunderstandings and stereotypes of American Indians have persisted. In public schools today, the Native American tribes of the past centuries are still portrayed as obstacles to westward expansion and colonialism (though with more sympathy than in years past).

Much of the American public remains ignorant about the proud and meaningful history and culture of the land’s indigenous people. Few Americans know about the contributions Native Americans made to our current political and business structures, through law, tribal government operations, business operations, treaties and taxation. Their achievements were remarkable, and their effects have been durable. Their legacies must be preserved, for the benefit of all.

The Lessons of Tribal Leadership Endure

As a descendant of tribal peoples, or even as someone with an interest in Native history and culture, you have the unique opportunity to learn about these cultures and apply valuable lessons from their accomplishments in your life and in your career.

If you truly value your heritage, it is important to learn about it from the perspectives of those who lived it — and who continue to live it — rather than through inaccurate written accounts and interpretations of other academic historians. This will not only help you to form a more holistic sense of your own identity, it will also dispel popular misconceptions about American Indians that Hollywood portrayals have perpetuated.

Many people today are of whole or partial Native American descent with ties going back to tribes in the Northeast, the Southeast, the Plains, the Southwest, the Great Basin, California, the Northwest Coast and the Plateau. The many tribes’ oral traditions are each important; they have been the primary means through which accurate accounts have been passed to present-day historians. Understanding them and passing them on preserves their ideas and values, many of which are extremely valuable to creating a better present-day America.

These oral traditions and, in particular, the lessons of tribal leadership are taught in the SOSU M.S. in Native American Leadership online program. In reinvigorating the study of Native American culture, graduates of this program benefit not only themselves but also their present-day tribes.

As the wisdom of Native American cultures past and present takes hold in modern America, the country will be enriched by the inclusion of these ideas. In everyday life and in business, we all stand to benefit from understanding the rich contributions Native Americans have made to our history and culture.

Learn more about Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s online Master of Science in Native American Leadership program.


American Indian College Fund: Why Preserve Native Cultures? Native American Cultures Educating America: The Historian’s Responsibility to Native Americans and the Public

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