Serving our Neighbors and Learning our Stories

Brad Hagen, Contributor 

Part of Augsburg University’s mission statement reads, “The Augsburg Experience is supported by an engaged community that is committed to intentional diversity in its life and work.” In addition to this, I have heard it said countless times by faculty and students that it is our duty as members of the Augsburg community to serve our neighbor. In my four years at Augsburg, I have noticed an oversight in this philosophy regarding the curriculum of the English department. 

While there are many opportunities to learn about Native peoples on campus, like the Native American Film Series run by Elise Marubbio and the offering of an American Indian Studies major and minor, there is a considerable absence of Native American literature in the courses provided by the English department. In the seventeen English classes that I have taken during my time at Augsburg, I was assigned one short story written by a Native person, “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich. 

While it is not necessarily the duty of the English department to teach students about Native American cultures, it is their responsibility to provide students with a well-rounded education and understanding of literature and its multifaceted nature. A glaring inconsistency between this responsibility and its execution is the department’s general lack of attention to Native American literature, especially when one considers that one of the graduation requirements for a degree in literature theory is to take an American literature course.

Furthermore, the absence of Native American literature in the department’s curriculum stands in direct opposition to the university’s mission statement, which calls for intentional diversity. While I have witnessed my professors actively strive toward diversity in the classroom, for which I commend them, it seems that our neighbors directly down the road at the Indian Center and Little Earth have been all but ignored. 

There are, in fact, Native American literature courses at Augsburg, but they have not been offered in quite some time due to insufficient enrollment, possibly due to a lack of promotion by the department. However, it is not that simple. In courses like Introduction to Literature, Introduction to Creative Writing, Fiction One and Fiction Two, all classes in which there is a decent amount of assigned reading, Native American literature can easily be incorporated.

Perhaps the best way to serve our Native neighbors is first to make an active effort to know them. With storytelling being central to most Native American cultures, I cannot think of a better way to begin to do this than to read our literature. Too often I have witnessed first hand the ignorance that is bred from a general lack of knowledge regarding Natives. With the inclusion of Native American literature into the curriculum, we as a community can take a step toward eliminating this ignorance.

To be frank, I don’t feel that it should be necessary that I argue for this. It should not be necessary that after all this time, we still have to say, “We’re still here.” Not for a moment have we left. While it’s unfortunate that I had to resort to learning about Native American literature outside of the classroom while at Augsburg, I hope for the sake of future students that this lack of inclusivity is rectified and that our stories are learned.