A degree in Native American studies can be both rewarding and fulfilling. However, to get the most out of your degree, it will require you to do a significant amount of hands-on research and interact with members of the cultural community. It is important that you understand cultural sensitivity during the process. Cultural insensitivity isn't just offensive, but it can impede your ability to learn.
The foundation of cultural sensitivity is respect. Respect requires that even when you don't understand something or may not even be able to relate to it, you still approach the concept with respect. Respect the culture, the people and most importantly, any differences.
The purpose of a degree in Native American studies is to immerse yourself with knowledge on the culture. However, if you are belittling customs and traditions because you don't understand them, you aren't respecting them and you ultimately will be unable to fully educate yourself on the topic. Understand that respect is the key to understanding.
Stereotypes are hurtful, offensive and most importantly, false. It's imperative that you avoid even mentioning these inaccurate statements when performing your research, even if you don't believe them. Some people don't understand that bringing up a stereotype is just as offensive as actually believing the stereotype.
It's never a good idea to even speak about these false beliefs. For example, if someone stereotyped all college students as thieves, you would be highly offended if someone even said to you, "they say all college students steal." Even bringing it up can come with a connotation that you somewhat believe it.
One of the most deeply rooted concepts in Native American culture is the preservation of traditions. When researching, elders and other members of the community, they may be more reserved and limit the amount of information they are willing to share with you. This is particularly the case if you haven't built a relationship with the individuals yet.
Make certain you are reverencing any boundaries that may exist. Being forceful or demanding that someone share information that they have chosen not to is not being sensitive to their culture. Learn to be patient and adhere to any boundaries set in place.
The more you work to be culturally sensitive, not only will you learn more during your studies, but you will naturally garner a greater respect for the culture. Make certain you keep cultural sensitivity a top priority.