Dr. Kevin Leonard

To learn more about Dr. Leonard:

Read the MSU Today article: Kevin Leonard appointed interim director of MSU's Native American Institute

Read the MSU Voices article: Supporting Indigenous communities beyond the land acknowledgment



Boozhoo! Niin Waabishki Ma'iingan. Nindizhinikaaz migizii nindoodem. I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to serve as Interim Director for the Native American Institute (NAI). I look forward to working with our Tribal Communities on and off campus, the Office of University Outreach and Engagement (UOE), and the Office of the Provost to support, reestablish, and bring stability to the NAI; an office which has been faithfully serving American Indian communities since Dr. George Cornell founded the institute in 1981.

If you would like to provide input on the future of the NAI, inquire about collaborations, programing opportunities, or services the NAI provides, please do not hesitate to reach out to our office at (517) 355-0124 or email me directly at leonard1@msu.edu. Also, to help keep our partners, Tribal Nations, and other partners informed about what is happening with the NAI, we will distribute this newsletter bimonthly, so watch for our second addition in February!


Kevin P. Leonard, Ph.D.
Member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians
Interim Director
Native American Institute
University Outreach and Engagement


What is Happening with the Native American Institute?

The Native American Institute (NAI) has faced some very difficult challenges over the past couple years. These challenges have resulted in very little activity from this office. Nevertheless, the NAI still has the unwavering support of Interim President Woodruff, Interim Associate Provost Jeitschko, Interim Associate Provost for University Outreach and Engagement Van Egeren and her team. Although unfortunate, these challenges have created an opportunity for Michigan State University (MSU) to assess the needs of our state's Tribal Nations, Tribal Colleges, constituents throughout the state, and our MSU Native Community about what NAI services have worked, what needs improvement, and the other services and programs the NAI should provide to help support the sovereignty of our tribes and people while strengthening collaborations and relationships between these communities and MSU.

To assist in conducting this assessment, an external research firm is being sought. A search committee was assembled consisting of members of the MSU Native Community and UOE. A request for proposals was distributed in early December and respondent firms will be reviewed over winter break with the goal of selecting the finalist by early January 2023. Two of the main criteria for firms include knowledge of TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) and/or Indigenous/culturally appropriate research methods for work with Indigenous people and Tribal Nations, as well as experience working with Tribal Nations, governments, and people. Once the research firm is secured, we will begin to collect data/feedback from Tribal Nations, Tribal Colleges, other constituents, and MSU's Native Community.

The data/feedback gathering stage of this process is set to occur during spring semester 2023. During this stage, the research firm will transcribe notes from these meetings and share these with the communities/individuals surveyed for their feedback and input. Once transcripts have been finalized, the research firm will compile the findings into a final report that will be sent to the Provost and Associate Provost for University Outreach and Engagement. The findings will be used to provide direction for the NAI moving forward. A firm will then assist in drafting a position description for the Director of the NAI with the goal of identifying the individual best suited to lead the Institute into the future by the end of fall semester 2023.

Ellie Mitchell

Photo from the Traverse City Record
Eagle, Dec. 2, 2022

Ellie Mitchell to Temporarily Rejoin NAI

As the process for collecting data from our Tribal Nations, Tribal Colleges, constituents, and MSU Native Community about their wants and needs from the NAI begins, the NAI is pleased to announce that Ellie Mitchell (member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan) will be rejoining the Institute as a Tribal Liaison starting December 2022, bringing with her expertise and connections to our Native Communities throughout the state and Great Lakes Region. Ellie will be splitting her time between NAI and American Indian and Indigenous Studies (AIIS) where she will be teaching two courses (AIIS 201: Introduction to Indigenous Studies and AIIS 491 Great Lakes Indigenous Fashion) during spring 2023.

Interim Director Leonard shared, "Although we will only have Ellie's assistance until the end of summer 2023, her expertise and relationships across Indian Country will be invaluable to the process of collecting the feedback needed to give direction to the NAI moving forward. I am looking forward to working with her and appreciate her flexibility in stepping away from other obligations to assist in this important process."


Dr. Kristin Arola

New Interim Director Named for American Indian and Indigenous Studies

Please join me in congratulating and welcoming Dr. Kristin Arola, the Karen L. Gillmore Endowed Associate Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Cultures, as the Interim Director for American Indian and Indigenous Studies (AIIS) at MSU. This position opened when Dr. Dylan AT Miner stepped down to become the Dean of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) at MSU. Arola is a first-generation descendant of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Lake Superior Band of Chippewan Indians located in the western end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Arola is an active member of EAGLE (Educating Anishinaabe: Giving, Learning, and Empowering), the native faculty/staff association at MSU, and serves as Co-PI on a National Science Foundation grant focused on partnering with rural and Indigenous communities to enable them to achieve energy sovereignty, or the right to make their own decisions, about energy implementation in their communities.

Arola brings a considerable interdisciplinary range of experiences to this prestigious program designed to illuminate American Indian and Indigenous culture across campus and the state and is well positioned to respond to the changing demands of American Indian and Indigenous peoples everywhere.

Spring 2023 American Indian and Indian Indigenous Studies Courses
(Instructor: Ellie Mitchell)

AIIS 201: Introduction to Indigenous Studies T/Th 12:40-2:00pm
Introduction to American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

AIIS 491: Great Lakes Indigenous Fashion T/Th 10:20-11:40am
This course will examine the role of clothing and wearable art in Indigenous peoples of the Great Lakes. Readings and assignments will explore the history of clothing and adornment, as well as contemporary topics such as powwow regalia, ribbon skits, and beadwork. Students will develop an understanding of the role of fashion in self-determination, sovereignty, and community resilience.

Submit your programs and events

The Native American Institute would like to help promote Indigenous programming, events, powwows, and social gatherings in future newsletters and/or on social media. If you would like your event reviewed for promotion, please submit a brief write-up that includes title of the event, date, time, location, and other pertinent information, as well as related flyers or images, to nai@msu.edu.