A Traveling Education Endures

Feb 21st, 2016 | By | Category: 27-3: The Trials of Teacher Education

For one of this issue’s web exclusive features we created a slideshow of Katrina Montoya’s photos from the first World Indigenous Games, which was held this past fall in Palmas, Brazil. Montoya, an outreach facilitator for AIHEC, accompanied a delegation of tribal college athletes who participated in this landmark event. Her photos reveal a fruitful exchange of culture and fellowship, reminding us of some of our own enriching travels undertaken on behalf of the tribal colleges and universities.

In 1999, staffers from Tribal College Journal travelled to Hawai’i for the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education. We met Indigenous people from all over the world and were warmly welcomed by our Native Hawaiian hosts. As we shared our stories of the tribal colleges, they shared many of their traditions, including songs and dances, the art of outrigger canoe construction and ocean navigation, and the successes of their ground-breaking language immersion school.

As a newcomer, it was an enchanting experience to take part in this gathering. Most memorable to me was a trip up to the NASA observatory on the sacred Hawaiian mountain Mauna Kea with a group of tribal college delegates. Rising 13,796 feet from sea level, “White Mountain” is the tallest in Hawai’i and an impressive sight. After a winding drive up its slopes, we stopped at the visitor’s center at 9,200 feet where they related the history of Hawaiian volcanoes and armed us with bottled water. Staying hydrated can ward off altitude sickness which, they said, can be fatal. As we made our final ascent I assured my companions that as a Coloradoan who lives at 6,500 feet and who frequently hikes at high elevations, I would have no problems adjusting to the elevation.

The caldera at the summit, with its barren landscape and hardened lava rock, resembled a moonscape. The cold wind whipped our hair and kept us alert. Our knowledgeable guide showed us around the observatory and demonstrated how their powerful telescopes reveal the night sky and distant galaxies. As I struggled for oxygen and strained to hear the guide over the roaring in my ears, I too started to see stars. Next thing I knew I was in another room with an oxygen mask and a friendly NASA worker smiling at me. Enlightened (and humbled), we made our way down the mountain, laughing and reminiscing about all of our experiences and the friendships we had made at the conference.

Travelling to such events can take considerable time and money, but as Montoya relates through her photos, these opportunities give us unparalleled (and sometimes chastening) insight into the world around us. We are able to connect with and learn from others who we come to realize—although they may live half way around the globe—aren’t so different from ourselves.

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