Preserving the university's Native American beginnings

Preserving the university’s Native American beginnings

Few are aware of The University of Tulsa’s Native American origins: the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls. A small boarding school founded in 1892 in Muskogee, the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls was renamed Henry Kendall College in 1894 and relocated to Tulsa in 1907. Despite this, however, the dissemination of TU’s history has been a slow-moving process. Today, the university acknowledges the Mvskoke (Muscogee [Creek] Nation) Reservation’s Tribal territory on which the main campus is located.

Some devoted professors, students and organizations are fighting to preserve the true history and bolster Native American heritage and culture on campus. University President Brad Carson is notably a member of the Cherokee Nation and grew up on Indian reservations across the country. This upbringing resulted in Carson serving the congressional district that is home to the Cherokee Nation as well as becoming president and chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses.

Black and white photo of Native American school girls
Students at the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls with Alice Robertson (Credit: McFarlin Library Department of Special Collections and University Archives)

Additionally, English Professors Laura Stevens and Sara Beam have contributed much to preserving and unveiling the history of TU through their collaborative research efforts with the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC). Their research aims to learn the names of and honor the young women who attended the Presbyterian School for Indian Girls. At current, their research focuses on studying the papers of the school’s director, Alice Roberston.

Perhaps most important are the student-led groups – the TU Native American Student Association (NASA) and the Native American Law Student Association (NALSA) – which have been integral to the conservation of Native American culture across campus. These inclusive groups prioritize uplifting Native voices to prevent further erasure of these foundational stories. 

TU Native American Student Association

woman sitting at a booth outside smiling for a photo
Madison Perigo

Madison Perigo, a Choctaw Native American on the accelerated dual degree track with the Collins College of Business and the College of Law, is this year’s TU NASA president. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Perigo knew when she arrived on campus in 2019 that she wanted to be a part of the TU Native American community. “It was difficult at first. The fallout of COVID-19 left NASA with few members and a campus that had little to no idea that we existed,” Perigo said. Now that she is president, bringing attention to the amazing organization by raising awareness on campus has been her most important task.

NASA aims to provide opportunities for students to participate in culturally relevant activities that perpetuate individual Tribal traditions and customs. Perigo maintains that these activities foster a closer union between Native American traditions and the TU student body. At 6:00 p.m. Nov. 29, 2022, NASA and NALSA in collaboration with the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) will host a TU Land Acknowledgment Ceremony in the Student Union, and everyone is welcome to attend. “We urge students, staff and faculty to join us and learn about the Native lands on which our beautiful campus resides,” said Perigo. “Our organization aims to promote Indigenous practices, form a welcoming environment for all students and serve the Tulsa community,” Perigo said. “NASA is organized, implemented and developed by students for students.”

Dinner will be provided by Burning Cedar Indigenous Catering. Speakers will acknowledge the Tribal land upon which TU resides and TU’s foundational history as well as promote proactive accountability moving forward.

All students are welcome to get involved by reaching out to Perigo at or following TU NASA’s Instagram

TU Native American Law Student Association

Native American Law Student Association members
2022-2023 TU NALSA members

In addition to a passionate undergraduate group, TU is home to another student organization dedicated to uplifting Indigenous voices. The TU Native American Law Student Association (NALSA), a section of the National NALSA organization, promotes the professional and academic needs and goals of Native American law students and their allies. NALSA grants law students the opportunity to serve the Native American legal community and network with legal professionals serving in the areas of Tribal and federal law. On campus, NALSA strives to garner awareness in every attorney and law student about the needs of the Native American community.

Emilee Morris Ratcliff is a third-year law student in the TU College of Law. Currently serving as NALSA president, Ratcliff was interested in Tribal law and federal law and wanted a chance to network with attorneys who practiced in those areas. “I have received ample support and networking opportunities through NALSA. It’s been a formative part of my law school experience, and I know my experiences through this club will guide my legal journey,” stated Ratcliff.

“America was inhabited by Tribes and Indigenous peoples before it was established as a country. I think it is important to remember this and honor Native American traditions, rights and history,” said Ratcliff. Tribes and the federal government have their own branches of law, and the rules in these fields can be complex and confusing. For Ratcliff, this is why it is important that campuses have groups dedicated to navigating this paramount sector of law, especially in Oklahoma. To stay connected to the community, NALSA has a service project planned for spring 2023, during which NALSA members will partner with attorneys to help Native American citizens draft wills. 

“TU NALSA is open to anyone interested in our mission. We love to meet new people who are as passionate as we are about these issues,” said Ratcliff. NALSA hosts monthly lunch meetings with guest speakers from the community that are open for all law students to join and learn about the importance of having a group like NALSA on campus. NALSA sends out email reminders every month to the entire law school student body, but Ratcliff is happy to help anyone seeking to join this impressive group. 

Are you interested in studying the complexities of Native American law? Check out the Native American Law Center (NALC) for more information or email Ratcliff at to learn more about NALSA today.