The AIS Master's program, established in 1982, was the first of its kind in the United States. By 1984, a minor in AIS at the doctorate level was approved by the Graduate College. Prior to 1991, AIS was operating with a half time director, 1 full-time employee assigned to the program, and a core of committed faculty from across the university whose tenuous attachment to the program was based on courtesy appointments. 

There was 1 staff member, $4,900 in operations, and variable support for graduate students from the Graduate College and other competitive funding within the College of SBS. 

The program was housed in four small temporary offices borrowed from the Political Science department and less than 30 graduate students were enrolled in any given semester.

A phased and substantive program of enhancement of administration, curriculum, academic programming, student financial support, staff, and infrastructure was undertaken. 

It was felt that this serious commitment by The University of Arizona would provide the necessary momentum which would lead to the establishment of full departmental status.

Although departmental status has not been pursued to date, AIS has aligned itself as an interdisciplinary program under the auspices of the Graduate College. This has greatly strengthened faculty alliance and afforded the program its unique autonomous status.

AIS over the years has been able to increase its service to graduate students and to American Indian nations. In a decade of fiscal restraint for higher education and academic program elimination at the university, AIS has commitment and support from key central administrators resulting in significant program growth. 

The implementation of the Ph.D. program and new faculty hires has positively impacted the quality of the program.

Original Motto and Logo

American Indian Studies created a logo and motto twenty-five years after the program was established in 1982. Credit goes to a department wide effort led by Dr. Robert Martin, AIS Associate Head and chair of the Logo and Motto Committee. 

The group worked several months to develop the logo and motto unveiled to the public at the May 2007 AIS Convocation. 

A process; guiding principles, and design elements were generated by the group to guide their work. A brainstorming session resulted in the motto “First in Native Knowledge” to reflect the AIS distinction of being at the forefront of graduate Indian education for twenty-five years. 

The logo design is a turtle rattle—an instrument used by many tribes for ceremonial purposes and regarded as sacred.