The program, approved by the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents last week, will aim to teach students federal Native American laws and the most effective tribal management and governance practices when it becomes available next fall.
The online program is a result of tribe members across the state asking for an off-campus alternative to the in-person classes.
Though the program is an online initiative, students can take the courses in person at UMD, but that will require them to enroll in a four-year program, said Tadd Johnson, director of the Master of Tribal Administration and Governance program.
Everyone enrolled in the program will also have to earn a certificate at UMD’s Labovitz School of Business and Economics to complete their degree, he said.
Johnson came up with the idea upon realizing that those interested in the studies across the country could enroll in courses if they were able to do so remotely.
“There were a lot of folks that had taken a few years of college but were now working on the reservation and wanted to continue working on the reservation,” Johnson said. “But they were too far from Duluth or any other college town to [take courses].”
There are several reservations that call Minnesota home, and many of them are in the northern part of the state near Duluth. Johnson said UMD worked closely with members of those tribes to develop the program to ensure it meets the needs of the state’s native population.
Johnson said since the announcement of the online program last week, the department has received many phone calls and emails from people interested in enrolling in it.
And the graduate program has grown since its creation in 2011, said program associate Tami Lawlor, adding that it has received “extremely positive” feedback. Since its first semester on campus, the program’s enrollment has increased from a dozen students to about 30 this fall, she said.
Johnson, a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Chippewa tribe, said tribes in Minnesota and across the country needed this kind of program so they could continue to become more organized and better equipped to run and manage reservations.
“The only training you could really get for running an Indian reservation was [through] the school of hard knocks and just by being [on the reservation],” he said.
Johnson said he envisions the new program to create a new discipline in tribal management, and he hopes that the best practices for managing a reservation will emerge as the program develops.
“People who work for Indian tribes are serving a population,” he said, “and we’re hoping that this will enable them to better serve the tribal populations on and off the reservation.”