Nicholas Belle named new director of First Nations Educational and Cultural Center
June 1, 2016
Nicholas Belle has been appointed the new director of IU Bloomington’s First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.
Belle, who received his Ph.D. in anthropology from IU Bloomington last month, began his new role May 9. As director of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, he is responsible for advancing the university’s strategic plan and commitment to the success of Native American and indigenous students by managing First Nations operations, projects, events and staff.
In cooperation with university partners, the center contributes to the educational, cultural and psychosocial development of students in the context of racial and ethnic social justice. As director, Belle will provide service programs to support Native American and indigenous students and ensure student retention.
“I’m thrilled to have Nicky lead FNECC,” said Yolanda Treviño, assistant vice president of strategy, planning and assessment. “His background and impressive set of accomplishments make him an excellent match for the position.”
Belle replaced Brian Gilley, who had served as director since 2010. Gilley stepped down to focus on his responsibilities as a faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Anthropology.
“Nicky is always for IU and for the betterment of Native students,” Gilley said.
Belle earned a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University in Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in anthropology from Florida State University, specializing in powwow culture, dance clothing and musical performance. He came to IU, where he received his Ph.D. in anthropology, in part because of the American Indian Studies Research Institute’s educational focus on Lakota language and culture.
In 2008, the institute entered into a partnership with Red Cloud Indian School, a K-12 school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, to create a comprehensive Lakota language curriculum. Serving as assistant project coordinator, Belle moved to Pine Ridge and spent three years serving as a liaison between the institute in Bloomington and Red Cloud, ensuring that the language curriculum was truly representative of the community.
“We’ve done great work,” Belle said of the project. “Every year, Red Cloud has won Most Improved and Highest Scores out of all the Lakota-, Nakota- or Dakota-speaking schools in the U.S. and Canada.”
After returning from Pine Ridge, Belle met Gilley and held a research assistantship through the anthropology department and began to volunteer at IU’s First Nations Educational and Cultural Center. One of his primary accomplishments was to build the IU Traditional Powwow, an annual event during IU Bloomington’s observance of Native American Heritage Month.
“With my connections in the powwow world, I tried to bring some of the bigger names I know here to IU,” Belle said. “I was also mindful of not just the social and community-building aspect of the powwow but the educational and learning impact. These cultural events are excellent teaching tools.”
Belle has been instrumental in connecting members of Native communities to IU Bloomington. For example, over the past three years he has been working with the First Nations center on Native student recruitment initiatives. These initiatives have included traveling to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to talk to students, teachers and parents about the many opportunities at IU Bloomington and to help them with the application process. He also brought a contingent of students and teachers from Red Cloud Indian School to the campus to learn first-hand about applying for admission and financial aid, choosing a major, and accessing cultural and educational support.
As director, Belle intends to continue his work connecting with members of Native communities to promote diversity at IU and strengthen efforts in support of the First Nation center’s mission. He also wants the center to continue providing Native students with opportunities to explore their heritage and have conversations about student success strategies and uncomfortable topics such as identity politics and stereotypes.
“FNECC needs to be the hub for the Native experience at IU,” Belle said. “Showing that Native people are contributing to the broader American identity and American culture will make every situation much more comfortable for students as they enter the classroom.”
Belle's appointment aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success and global engagement.