Since graduating from University of Michigan and joining MSU’s faculty, Dr. John Norder has found himself in many roles: archaeologist, ethnographer, teacher, advocate, and facilitator. Most recently, he’s been furthering MSU’s service mission in partnership with Indigenous peoples as the Interim Director of the Native American Institute (NAI). Due to his success, he’s been recommended by the Dean of Agriculture and Natural resources to assume the role as formal director for the next five years.
NAI’s philosophy is to promote research and sustainable development that is native led and culturally relevant. Under Dr. Norder’s direction, NAI is working in three different capacities: Connecting tribal organizations with MSU resources and partners, consulting on joint projects with Indigenous groups and MSU researchers, and implementing projects directly in response to requests from tribes. Dr. Norder has also begun tracking research with Native Americans across MSU’s campus so that NAI can be a hub where applied research, extension projects, and scientific investigation relating to Indigenous communities converge.
Dr. Norder’s experience with heritage resource management is an asset at NAI, and it was MSU’s Department of Anthropology that supported him expanding his focus in this direction. After joining the faculty at MSU he received funding to conduct ethnographic work on land use, fueled by his interest in pre-European Indigenous landscapes. Conversations with land users led him to a broader focus on heritage resources, since it was clear these were vital to current livelihoods and community identity. Heritage resources include cultural resources like archaeological sites, but also natural resources like fish, wildlife, wild rice, and forest products that tribes manage and depend on economically. In many Indigenous communities these resources have become important tools for asserting sovereignty. As director of NAI, Dr. Norder oversees a range of projects that address these and other issues.
One reason Indigenous communities seek out NAI is the need for natural resource assessments and development. A recent example is a climate project conducted with the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi, MSU environmental justice expert Dr. Kyle Whyte, and University of Michigan’s Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment center. NAI handled the qualitative study on the project and Dr. Norder worked with student interns who collected data on environmental use and knowledge among the Potawatomi. The team has been approached by the journal Human Ecology to submit a multiauthored piece on this project.
Dr. Norder encourages students, working in Native American communities or elsewhere, to be solution-oriented in the work they are doing. He sees opportunities for anthropology students to do meaningful work in this area, and NAI is a unique organization that supports this engaged research with tribes. Dr. Norder, working with the new director of the American Indian Studies Program and others on campus, is developing plans to eventually establish a center at MSU that would house all Indigenous groups on campus and move them towards deeper association with each other with the goal of attracting more Native American students to MSU.
Image: Dr. John Norder at Long Slide Falls near the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin
This article is in the Department of Anthropology’s Fall 2015 Newsletter, see the entire newsletter here.12.15.15