KU appoints its first director of tribal relations

photo by: Laura Kingston // Achievement and Assessment Institute at KU

Melissa Peterson has been appointed KU's director of tribal relations.

The University of Kansas has created a position aimed at addressing the needs of Native American students and fostering engagement with Haskell Indian Nations University and tribal nations.

Melissa Peterson was named KU’s director of tribal relations on Thursday. Peterson was born and raised on the Navajo Nation, is of the T ł ‘ízí lání clan (Many Goats), born for the Todích’íí’nii clan (Bitter Water), according to a KU press release. She has worked at KU since 2015.

This is believed to be the first time in KU history that there has been a position dedicated to promoting the belonging of Native American students on campus. The position was created as part of Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer’s efforts to invest in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at KU, the release stated.

Susan Klusmeier, KU’s vice provost for academic success, said in the release that Peterson has demonstrated a “passion and commitment” to serving Native American students during her time at KU.

Peterson currently serves as an associate director for KU TRIO Supportive Educational Services & STEM. She is also the adviser for the KU First Nations Student Association, is president of the Native Faculty and Staff Council and is one of the organizers of the KU FNSA Powwow & Indigenous Cultures Festival. She has a master’s degree in public health from KU and plans to graduate with a doctorate in higher education administration from KU this year. Prior to her work at KU, Peterson worked at Haskell.

Peterson said she was honored to be appointed as the director of tribal relations. As part of her role, she will connect KU faculty and researchers to Native organizations. She will also be a “needed resource” for KU leadership on how to promote equity, inclusion and belonging for Native American students, according to the release.

“Many faculty, staff and students, including myself, have advocated the prioritization of Native American student support at KU,” Peterson said in the release. “My interest in this position comes from my deep teachings as a Diné. In our teachings, the Diné word ‘K’é’ means the feeling you have when you are deeply connected to others and understand and value your roots.”

Peterson said she hoped to build a system of K’é on behalf of KU.

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