The Native American Educational Services (NAES) College was the first urban American Indian institution of its kind, a four-year college run by and serving Native populations in Chicago and the Twin Cities as well as on reservations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, and New Mexico. From 1974 to 2005, NAES College served hundreds of students of diverse tribal affiliations, ages, and backgrounds, providing a community-based education grounded in public policy, tribal knowledge, community development and leadership, and more. What follows is a brief history of NAES College, including an interactive timeline.
In 1973, members of the Native American Committee (NAC), a nonprofit organization founded in Chicago in 1970, conceived of the first American Indian-controlled institution of higher education in Chicago, what would eventually become the Native American Education Services (NAES) College. NAC members William Whitehead, Dennis Harper, and Robert V. Dumont wrote the first proposals detailing a systematic and sustained method by which Native students could receive a baccalaureate degree in both academic and tribal knowledges while also being trained for a variety of professions as they continued on to leadership roles in Native communities. Members of NAC, including William Crazy Thunder, Faith Smith, Dennis Harper and Nancy Dumont, served as the founding board and NAES was established in Chicago in 1974 as an independent nonprofit organization. With Chicago as the “main” campus, NAES College expanded over time to include “study sites” in Minneapolis and Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota, Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin, Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, and Santo Domingo Pueblo in New Mexico.
In 1983, NAES College published its mission statement, as well as a 52-page report, “The Statement of the Case for NAES College: Building a Model for Higher Indian Education.” On the very first page of this statement, the aims of NAES are stated clearly and boldly: “Central to the NAES concept of effective and appropriate higher education for Indians in self-determination, most apparent in the College’s successful integration of two bodies of knowledge: tribal and academic. The NAES program provides leadership training and skills to individuals, who in turn use them to effect change and improvement in their community, and knowledge within the NAES framework emerges from and is harmonic with the Indian community’s cultural system. The result is high-level education from an Indian perspective and high-level participation in the Indian community (both reservation and urban). The success of the NAES model, then, is seen both in terms of individual students and in terms of the Indian community from which those students come.”
Over 300 Native students of diverse backgrounds graduated from NAES College, including Willard LaMere (Winnebago), the college’s very first graduate. Before attending NAES College, LaMere served on the board of directors and as executive director of the American Indian Center in Chicago, and after graduating from NAES went on to found the American Indian Business Association of the Midwest. In 1988, LaMere received the “Indian Achievement of the Year Award” from the Indian Council Fire for his years of service to Native communities.
Another prominent student, Karen Washinawatok graduated from NAES College in the 1993. As an adult, Washinawatok learned the Menominee language and later because the Dean of NAES College in Menominee for over a decade. Like many NAES graduates who would later go on to tribal leadership roles, Washinawatok eventually became Chairperson of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and remained an avid supporter of the NAES study site on the Menominee reservation. Dedicating her career to Native education, Washinawatok becane a teacher and consultant, “providing K-12 educational policy and programming guidance in her role as a board member for the Menominee Indian School District.” (source)
In addition to prestigious students becoming leaders in Native communities and organizations, NAES College employed many well-renowned faculty and offered a wide range of tribal and academic courses. For more on the NAES academic program, including examples of classes taught by NAES instructors, please visit the Academics page, and to see photographs and browse a directory of NAES students, faculty, and staff, please visit the People page.
NAES also collaborated and affiliated with many universities and other organizations. In the beginning, in order to help grant bachelor degrees, NAES partnered with Antioch University. Later, after NAES College lost its accreditation, it affiliated with Northeastern Illinois University, with the American Indian Association of Illinois facilitating the collaboration under the name Medicine Shield College. The University of Chicago also had strong connections with NAES, with UC being the academic home of original NAES supporter and committee member Sol Tax, who advocated for the creation of NAES as well as helped raise funds for its first building and donated his papers to the NAES College archives. Today, much of the NAES archives and related papers are housed at the University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center.
NAES College served students and communities in a number of ways beyond the classroom, including the NAES College Library & Archives, NAES College Bookstore, and NAES Press, a publisher of unique and original Native-authored publications. NAES College was the steward of the archives of Native American activists, artists, and educators such as Ladonna Harris, Susan Power, David Beaulieu, and many others. The college also made major contributions to the profession of librarianship, most notably with the creation of a Native-centered classification system used to describe and organize the books and other works in its collection. For more, please visit the Library page.
While NAES College lost its accreditation in 2005, its legacy more than lingers across the country and it is our hope that this website offers not just a look into the past, but toward new futures by and for Native communities, organizations, and movements.
For a more detailed history, please read “Education for a Credentialed Leadership: NAES College,” (PDF) from the book Community Self-Determination: American Indian Education in Chicago, 1952-2006 by John Laukaitis (SUNY Press, 2015).