The Adventure of “Indigenizing” Higher Education

Feb 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 16-3: Indigenizing Education
By Gerald E. Gipp, Ph.D.

Gerald E. Gipp

Stories of this nation’s westward expansion are replete with conflict and change for Native people. The devastating effects on the lifestyles, languages, and cultures of indigenous people are well documented. The stories often differ, but they share a common theme — the destruction of a way of life.

Nationwide there are wide variances in the level of losses within the tribal communities. In some cases whole languages and cultures have disappeared. In others, languages and traditional practices have thrived despite the edict of federal officials. Ironically, the isolation of some reservations protected them, and they became cultural bastions of hope.

On the cultural continuum, many of our communities are somewhere in the middle, with language loss continuing because of intervening variables, i.e., poverty and its devastation of family structures, irrelevant education programs, television, and other distractions.

With the destruction of traditional extended family learning, there was no formal structure – until recently — to facilitate and allow languages to grow and flourish. Native families and tribal communities require this type of support if tribal communities are to undo the destructive process of the past.

Until recent decades, policy makers and educational institutions have purposely overlooked and ignored the importance of language and culture in the learning environment. The consequence of this tactic has been high dropout rates, low achievement, and poor self-esteem among American Indian and Alaska Native students.

Tribal educators have long recognized the importance of Native language and culture. In the learning process common in the past, Native people’s lifestyles melded the world of knowledge with the traditions of spirit, language, and culture.

Beginning in the 1800s, the education of Indians focused upon assimilation. It was only in the 1960s that Native people began to see an environment conducive to tribal influence in education through Indian-controlled school boards and tribal colleges.

Native people now are exercising our right to provide a culturally hospitable environment for education. Through tribal colleges and universities, Native communities can “indigenize” higher education.

Providing culturally relevant education is challenging. Revitalizing tribal languages is even more demanding because it requires the commitment of the entire tribal community.

The articles in this issue share the dreams and the achievements. They will bring you a better understanding of this new and intriguing adventure.

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