Dr. Kevin Leonard




As usual, niibin passes much too quickly and we are already in giiwe-niibin, with students returning and classes in full gear at MSU. Hopefully, everyone found time to unwind, relax, and enjoy the beauty of this great region we call home. Here at the Native American Institute (NAI), we continued to keep ourselves busy over the summer. In early June we wrapped up our visits with Tribal Nations and Native partners from across the state. We visited with over 192 folks across 25 different listening sessions. As mentioned in our May newsletter, the feedback we received from you was truly invaluable. We cannot thank you enough for your hospitality and willingness to share the major concerns and issues impacting your community and how the NAI may be able to partner/collaborate with you moving forward.

The first draft of the Tribal Nations Outreach Project Report based on these listening sessions was sent to me a few weeks back. Grassroots Solutions is on track to make final edits/updates and release the final report to MSU leaders in late September. We will be holding two report review sessions—one for our campus community and one for our Tribal Nations and Native partners—later this month (see details below). Once the review sessions are completed, the report will be used to develop a job posting for the full-time director of the NAI. The report also will serve as the basis for a strategic plan that will give direction to the NAI moving forward. We have also been busy planning programming for the fall semester, including a wonderful documentary series in collaboration with the North American Indigenous Student Organization and the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions. We hope to see some of you on campus for one or more of these events (details to follow).


Kevin P. Leonard, Ph.D.
Interim Director
Native American Institute
University Outreach and Engagement


What is Happening with the Native American Institute?

Since we last reported to you, the Native American Institute (NAI) staff and team wrapped up our visits with our Tribal and community partners, which was part of the Tribal Nations Outreach Project that we began in April 2023. These listening/visioning sessions were designed to assess the needs and wants of our state's Tribal Nations, Tribal Colleges, and other Native partners on and off campus. As of this publication's date, the final draft of the Tribal Nations Outreach Project Report has been submitted to President Woodruff, Provost Jeitschko, Vice Provost Brookins, and our Native and Tribal Partners who participated in the listening sessions.

Native Communities on and off campus were invited to the following virtual sessions for review and discussion of the report:

  • Tribal Nations and Off-Campus Native partners: Thursday, September 21, 2-3:30 p.m.
  • On-Campus Native Community: Wednesday, September 27, 10-11:30 a.m.

Registration links for these sessions were emailed to everyone who participated in one or more of the listening sessions. If you participated in a listening session and did not get a registration link, please email me at leonard1@msu.edu and I will send you a link to the recording of the session.

As mentioned previously, the Tribal Nations Outreach Project Report will be used to draw attention to the needs of our Tribal Nations and partners while guiding the development of a strategic plan that will give direction to the NAI moving forward. The report also will be used to craft a position description for the full-time director of the program. Following the review sessions, electronic copies of the Tribal Nations Outreach Project Report will be made available to the public. All participants with whom NAI/Grassroots Teams met will have joint ownership of the report's findings.

Once the review sessions are complete, we will form a search committee for the full-time director of the NAI and post the position so that interested applicants can apply. It is our goal to begin the search process in mid-October with the process wrapping up no later than January 2024.

Student Organic Farm Secures Organic Valley Foundation Grant – Three Sisters Garden

The MSU Student Organic Farm (SOF) recently received a $50,000 grant from the Organic Valley Foundation to support Indigenous foodways. In collaboration with the Native American Institute and College Assistance Migrant Program, Dr. Laurie Thorp, director of MSU's Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment (RISE), and her team recruited undergraduate and graduate students to work on establishing Indigenous food plots designed to teach students about organic farming, revitalizing traditional ways of farming, and planting traditional foods that provide sustenance for our Indigenous people for thousands of years. Although this program is just getting started, Dr. Thorp and her students were able to plant a Three Sisters Garden with seeds passed down from community members. NAI interim director Dr. Kevin Leonard stated, "This project has created an opening to begin working with Tribal youth and Nations at reestablishing their food sovereignty. I am hopeful that the NAI and SOF can continue to collaborate and expand this effort to possibly one day include an Indigenous seed bank for our Tribal Nations to draw from."

In addition, as part of the Indigenous foodways grant, SOF, NAI, RISE, and MSU's American Indian and Indigenous Studies are partnering to conduct a Sugarbush Spring 2024 in the woodlot near the farm. We have applied for permission to tap 10 trees this spring in hopes of gathering maple sap that we can boil down into maple syrup. We will be seeking elders and others from our Indigenous Communities who possess traditional knowledge and experience in traditional ways of tapping, gathering, and preparing the sap. Interested parties should email the NAI at nai@msu.edu.

Michigan Indian Boarding School Research Initiative (MIBSRI)

From left to right: Ms. Alexandra Rivera (MSU Libraries); Ms. Melissa Kiesewetter (Michigan Department of Civil Rights) and Dr. Kevin P. Leonard (Native American Institute at MSU)

The Michigan Indian Boarding School Research Initiative (MIBSRI) is a collaboration between Ms. Alexandra Rivera (MSU Libraries), Ms. Melissa Kiesewetter (Michigan Department of Civil Rights), and Dr. Kevin P. Leonard (Native American Institute at MSU), with the goal of assisting Tribal repatriation officers, Tribal scholars, Tribal educators, and Tribal historians with support for their research and repatriation efforts involving the state of Michigan's Indian Boarding School Study.

The MIBSRI helps provide access to resources and services that include databases that Tribal affiliates would not otherwise have. It is our hope that visiting scholars will now be able to use these new tools/resources to gain access to information that before was out of reach. Training sessions on how to effectively use these databases were conducted by a team of talented MSU Library specialists for Tribal affiliates in late August/early September. Discussions continue among team members on how to expand access to archive and library resources to our Tribal Nations and Tribal Colleges.

NAI/MDCR Art Competition — Calling all Indigenous Artists

The Native American Institute is partnering with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) to enhance and produce the Native American Resource Guide, which has been published out of the MDCR for more than two decades. We are seeking art submissions from the Native community which, if selected, will appear in both the digital and print versions of the new Michigan Native American Resource Guide. Artists who have their work selected will receive a $100 gift card. Submissions that are not selected will be entered into a drawing to receive one of five $50 gift cards. Artwork media can include photography, drawings, paintings, and graphic designs; all submissions must be in a high-resolution format (.jpg or .pdf) so that the images can be used in digital and print publications. The submission deadline is Friday, November 4. Submissions can be sent via email to nai@msu.edu. Selected artists will be announced in the next NAI newsletter.

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 our 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.