While the use of Native American imagery in sports is a particularly visible connection between Native communities and higher education, the connections are much deeper. Throughout American history, colleges and universities have made connections with Indigenous peoples through research, teaching, and natural resources, including land. Sometimes these connections are collaborative, but often times scholars and institutes of higher learning have exploited Native land, culture, and knowledge for their own benefit.
Universities, along with museums and other cultural heritage institutions, also hold many Native American artifacts in their collections. These collections, ostensibly kept for research purposes, may or may not have been acquired through legitimate, consensual means. Today, many Native communities are working to recover stolen artifacts from such collections.
Universities are also among the institutions that keep Native American human remains. Since 1990, federal law has attempted to address this issue. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) provides for "the repatriation and disposition of certain Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony."
To read more about teaching, learning, and other issues relevant to Native Americans in higher education, consider searching ERIC, the database that indexes journal articles from education and related fields.
Try some of these search terms in your research:
You can also search for individual Native nations by name (e.g. Navajo), though there may be fewer studies that are limited to just one tribe or nation.
Did you know that the connections between Native Americans and higher education in the United States go all the way back to the founding of Harvard? In the 1640s, Harvard included an Indian College, meant to education and convert Native Americans to Christianity. The Indian College building housed the first printing press in British North America.
Learn more about the Indian College from Harvard's online exhibit, "Digging Veritas." We also recommend the relevant chapter from Lisa Brooks's award-winning book, Our Beloved Kin.
Some Native communities maintain their own Tribal colleges and universities (TCU).