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UW Names Spoonhunter Director of High Plains American Indian Research Institute

September 9, 2022
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Tarissa Spoonhunter

An experienced scholar in American Indian studies who grew up on Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Reservation and has worked for nearly a decade on Wyoming’s Wind River Indian Reservation has been selected to facilitate research partnerships between the University of Wyoming and the Wind River tribes.

Tarissa Spoonhunter, most recently an associate professor at Central Wyoming College (CWC) who earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Arizona, is the new director of UW’s High Plains American Indian Research Institute (HPAIRI). She currently is working remotely and will start on the UW campus Oct. 1.

Spoonhunter has a primary faculty appointment in UW’s Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources and a secondary appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We are excited about Dr. Spoonhunter joining the University of Wyoming and leading HPAIRI,” Vice President for Research and Economic Development Parag Chitnis says. “Her experience with extramural funding from the major federal agencies will be key to bringing resources to HPAIRI for research addressing tribal challenges, for supporting workforce training and for fostering economic development opportunities for Native American communities.”

As a faculty member in the Haub School, Spoonhunter will teach, conduct research and engage with stakeholders to advance understanding of complex environment and natural resource challenges. She brings deep experience in tribal resource management, traditional ecological knowledge and interdisciplinary approaches, and will offer critical learning opportunities for Haub School and UW students.

“We are so pleased to have Dr. Spoonhunter bring her expertise in natural resource issues, challenges to management and new perspectives to our faculty to share with students and our community. Her passion to have impact through inclusive partnerships is important to our mission in the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources,” Dean John Koprowski says.

HPAIRI was established with the support of Wyoming’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research in 2012 to facilitate a reciprocal relationship between the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone people of the Wind River Indian Reservation and UW. Today, HPAIRI serves as an information and research repository for research on the Wind River reservation. HPAIRI consults with researchers to clarify how working on tribal lands means conducting research in a manner reflective of tribal tradition and sovereignty.

In the renewed vision for HPAIRI, the institute is expected to catalyze and facilitate research and economic development opportunities for tribal communities through competitive extramural funding from federal and private sources.

“I am very honored to take on the role as director of HPAIRI to continue building research infrastructure collaboration and education relevant to the tribes of the Wind River reservation -- as well as working with other tribes within the territory of the Fort Laramie-ceded lands that UW serves in Colorado, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming,” Spoonhunter says.

Before earning her graduate degrees in American Indian studies from the University of Arizona, Spoonhunter received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Montana.

Spoonhunter has worked among tribal colleges including the Blackfeet Community College and Wind River Tribal College as an adjunct instructor in the early 2000s, and she worked in the Office of Institutional Research at Tohono O’odham Community College as a researcher. She also worked for the Native Nations Institute under the Morris K. Udall Foundation at the University of Arizona as a research associate, working directly with the Tigua Pueblo of Texas, the Crow Creek Tribe in South Dakota, the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin and the Bush Fellowship Program on Rebuilding Native Nations.

She began her work at CWC in 2014, teaching courses in Native American history, literature, education, law, natural resource management and tribal leadership. She developed a Bachelor of Applied Science degree and an Associate of Arts degree in tribal leadership at CWC.

Her collaborations with UW have included the Growing Resilience project, to encourage gardening on the Wind River reservation, and the WY-ACT: Wyoming Anticipating Climate Transitions project, which will allow researchers to work with Wyoming’s communities to deal with expected significant and lasting changes in water availability.

Spoonhunter succeeds James Trosper, who served as HPAIRI director since November 2018 and will continue working for UW as an adviser to President Ed Seidel.

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