President Biden on Tuesday nominated Shelly C. Lowe, a scholar of Native American higher education and a longtime administrator, as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Lowe, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, would be the first Native American and the second woman to lead the agency.
Ms. Lowe, who grew up in Ganado, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation, is currently a member of the National Council on the Humanities, a 26-member advisory board to the endowment. She has also been executive director of Harvard University’s American Indian Program, and has held positions at Yale University and the University of Arizona, where she completed doctoral coursework in higher education, with an emphasis on Native American student success.
The endowment, which has an annual budget of roughly $167 million, has been the subject of ideological battles over the years, and was repeatedly targeted for elimination by the Trump administration. In a statement, Adam Wolfson, the endowment’s acting chairman, called Ms. Lowe’s nomination “of historic significance.”
Ms. Lowe would succeed John Parrish Peede, a scholar of Southern literature appointed by President Trump who resigned in January. During Mr. Peede’s tenure, the agency created challenge grants to support humanities infrastructure at institutions across the country, including an initiative to strengthen archival collections at historically Black colleges and universities and what the agency described as the first-ever national convening of Native American curators, preservationists and tribal leaders to discuss best practices for handling Native American cultural resources.
Those projects fell under the rubric of “A More Perfect Union,” a continuing initiative aimed at helping promote a fuller appreciation for American history as part of the 250th anniversary of the nation in 2026.
The humanities endowment has often had a lower profile than the National Endowment for the Arts, a sister agency also created in 1965. In a statement, Ms. Lowe called its mission essential to national life.
“Ensuring the American people have access to humanities institutions, resources and programs is absolutely critical in addressing the challenges of the 21st century,” she said.
This week, the endowment announced $87.8 million in grants to nearly 300 cultural and educational institutions affected by the pandemic, as part of $135 million it received under the American Rescue Plan Act.