Beginning in the late 1980s, American Indian faculty, staff, students, and their allies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign called for a dynamic cultural space, a first-rate academic program, and a high-level administrative office to oversee recruitment and retention efforts and to advocate for the issues related to Indian students. As a result of these appeals and actions, the Native American House opened in 2002 (and moved to its current location at 1206 West Nevada Street in Fall 2003; American Indian Studies moved into its current location at 1204 West Nevada in 2006).

In 2002, the Committee on Native American Programs was formed and, in part, was charged with developing a comprehensive academic program that included American Indian Studies and Native American House. Initially reporting to the Office of the Chancellor, the program was assigned to and governed by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences during the 2003-2004 academic year.

In 2004, tenure-track faculty in American Indian Studies were appointed for the first time in the history of the University. In 2005, faculty and staff officially established the American Indian Studies Program when it was approved by the Board of Trustees. Concurrently, faculty began to develop a curriculum for the program; the Board of Trustees approved an Undergraduate Minor in 2008 and a Graduate Minor in 2009.

In 2009, the Native American House was administratively moved to the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs as part of ongoing efforts to provide professional student support programs to Native American students. As an academic program, American Indian Studies remains in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The American Indian Studies faculty strives to develop an intellectual paradigm for academic and community-based research and teaching. Since its inception as a field in the 1970s, American Indian Studies programs across the United States have focused on sovereignty and self-determination, intellectual traditions and linguistic revitalization, and cultural practices and artistic expression. Our program builds on these areas by providing theoretical and methodological models centered within American Indian communities.