Washington State Magazine

The Renaissance of American Indian Higher Education: Capturing the Dream

by Ed. by Maenette Kape'ahiokalani Padeken Ah Nee-Benham and Wayne J. S :: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates :: Reviewed by William Willard

The Renaissance of American Indian Higher Education: Capturing the Dream

Much of the effort of American Indian education in recent years has been to reverse the effects of the deadly programs of the past, when the schools most Indians had access to were procrustean institutions, to which they were required to adjust, or fail. The intent of this book is to document the story of the Native American Higher Education Initiative (NAHEI) and the concept of the tribal college movement. The NAHEI is identified as a partnership of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation with the tribal colleges and universities, three federal schools, four national American Indian educational organizations, and mainstream institutions of higher education whose programs focus on meeting the needs of Native American students. The individual chapters can be regarded as descriptions of how difficult the road is not just to reverse bad programs, but to actually create structure where there had been none, and then make progress toward a renaissance under challenge.

The book's 23 contributors discuss a variety of questions related to these issues, including the need for a working philosophy as a foundation for a tribal college, governance and finance, linkages between tribal colleges and state colleges and universities, and accountability.

While there are no easy answers to any of these questions, some of the issues discussed are especially challenging.

Valorie Johnson, Matthew Jason Van Alstine, and co-editor Benham, for example, query the grounding elements of native leadership that move educational policy, practice, and change among tribal college leaders. What practical skills enhance the work of college leaders? What can be done to ensure greater numbers of highly trained educational leaders?

Van Alstine, Colleen Larimore, and D. Michael Pavel of WSU's College of Education face a problem at least as difficult: Where are the teachers for the tribal colleges going to come from? They call for teacher training in culture and language skills, in addition to the technical matters of education. But where do the instructors of those teachers come from? If the answer is the elders of the indigenous communities, then how does one deal with the fact that the numbers of those elders become fewer each day? Given those circumstances, training in culture and language skills must be done by those who may not be natives themselves, but who have learned these skills through experience and study. In fact, it may be that one way of selecting teacher candidates is to choose from among those, whether native or not, who express a willingness to be trained in the needed skills. Training programs could be developed around core people who can transmit their knowledge of indigenous skills and language to groups of teacher candidates, thus achieving a multiplier effect of one person training 10 or 20 others. After five years, such programs would result in a very healthy increase in the number of instructors.

John W. Tippeconnic III and Smokey McKinney write to the problems of native faculty development and scholarship. There are not enough faculty to meet the demand, they have limited resources, they teach incredible class overloads. Research, scholarship, and faculty development just don't happen under such conditions. As for the numbers of Indian faculty at both tribal colleges and mainstream institutions, they are not large. One tribal college has the largest proportion, 66 percent. Obviously, non-Indian faculty are carrying much of the burden of teaching at present and will do so for the foreseeable future.

The Renaissance of American Indian Higher Education may be read as an account of the struggles of building education programs for a population which, until only the past few decades, did not have access to schools planned for their needs. For well over a century, Indian children were forcibly taken to prison-like federal-Indian boarding schools, whe re the speaking of indigenous languages was forbidden under threat of physical punishment. By contrast, the schools under discussion in this book are concerned about such things as the teaching of indigenous languages—a much more positive effort.

— William Willard, professor emeritus, Department of Anthropology, WSU

Categories: Education | Tags: Native Americans