Visiting Fulbright Scholar Strengthens International Focus of American Indian Studies


Kiera Ladner has joined the University of Arizona Department of American Indian Studies this fall as a Fulbright fellow. Ladner, formerly the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Politics and Governance, is an associate professor in the Department of Political Studies at the University of Manitoba.

An expert on Indigenous governance in Canada, Ladner is driven by questions of colonialism and the coexistence of nations. Her research focuses on self-determination, treaty constitutionalism, and Indigenous political thought. Ladner previously received a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to examine Indigenous constitutional politics in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

Ladner is the second Fulbright scholar to be placed with the department since the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in fall 2015 with Michael Hawes, the executive director from the Canadian Fulbright Foundation, to have a Canadian Indigenous Entrepreneurship Faculty Fellow join the department for five years. The UA’s Fulbright program is run through the Office of Global Initiatives.

Ben Colombi, acting head of the Department of American Indian Studies, is excited to have Ladner join the department. “Kiera brings a focus on Indigenous politics to the department and will be creating links across campus in this area,” said Colombi, noting that Ladner will be collaborating with colleagues in the Native Nations Institute and the Indigenous Peoples Law & Policy Program in the James E. Rogers College of Law.

“She also incorporates both the local and global perspective,” Colombi added. “She will help us connect the dots between four countries: the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.”

The groundbreaking history of the department, which offers a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D., makes it an exciting place for Ladner to visit. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the graduate program: It offered the first master’s degree in American Indian Studies (AIS) in the country in 1982 and the first Ph.D. in AIS in the U.S. in 1997.

“To the best of my knowledge, the UA has the oldest graduate program in Indigenous studies in North America,” Ladner said. “As such it is quite unique, as it has both a rich history with scholars such as Vine Deloria having taught here, and a great intellectual environment today with scholars and students from across the continent.” (The late Vine Deloria Jr., an esteemed scholar, established the UA’s graduate program in American Indian Studies.)

While at the UA, Ladner hopes to write about and present on two projects: a comparative examination of Indigenous constitutional law and politics and a project on digital archiving in marginalized communities. The latter project has missing and murdered Indigenous women as one of its foci.

She will also begin a new project, which brings together pieces of the above work and “responds to Deloria’s linking of Indigenous scholarly pursuits and sovereignty through the creation of a participatory, crowd sourced digital archive consisting of materials pertaining to Indigenous constitutional law and politics (including treaties) in Anglo-settler societies.”

Ladners’ interdisciplinary and international strengths dovetail with Colombi’s goals for the department.

The department is transitioning its graduate degrees into Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs (GIDP). It has recently added 30 affiliated faculty members to expand the breadth of the curriculum.

Building on the department’s existing strengths in American Indian literature; education; and law and policy, Colombi — who specializes in the interface between Indigenous natural resource management, cultural and environmental sustainability, and globalization —plans to add new concentrations in sovereignty as well as the environment and natural resources. He will also continue to strengthen the department’s emphases on tribal health and Indigenous entrepreneurship.

“We plan to draw from all colleges on campus and make AIS more inclusive and interdisciplinary,” Colombi said.  “We want to train our students in such a way that they are really experts on something.”