Many Trails to Persistence: A Model for Stockbridge-Munsee and Other Native Students in Higher Education

Feb 21st, 2016 | By | Category: 27-3: The Trials of Teacher Education, Teaching
By Jolene Bowman, Ph.D.

The Many Trail Model incorporates various other education models and is based on a design devised by Mohican elder Edwin Martin.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians, also known as the Muh-he-con- ne-ok or “People of the Waters that Are Never Still,” is a federally recognized Indian tribe with a constitution that was approved in 1937. The written history of the tribe dates back to 1609, with Henry Hudson’s accounts of his interactions with the Mohicans (Davids, 2004; Loew, 2013). Originally from eastern North America, the Mohicans were relocated eight times before settling on the present-day reservation in Bowler, Wisconsin. Their ordeal is symbolized through the Many Trails design, which continually reminds all Mohicans of their past struggles to survive and their need to stay united to ensure the future of the tribe.

For many Indigenous peoples, tearing down the walls of poverty means building nations and communities through education. Higher education serves a purpose to sustain and build a tribal nation in an ever-changing world by increasing the number of tribal citizens with college degrees who will strengthen their economies and help their neighboring communities. A component of this includes working collaboratively for self-determination in higher education by informing academia about the unique status and needs of Indigenous students. Many tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) have developed culturally responsive teaching models and paradigms to guide curricula and ensure that Indigenous knowledge remains at the core of the institution’s mission. This is not the case at mainstream colleges and universities. Gaining insightful information regarding Indigenous persistence in higher education can help non-tribal colleges and universities better serve Native students and assist them in reaching their educational goals. For the Mohican Nation, which currently does not have its own TCU, it is vital that a culturally responsive tool is utilized to educate academia about the unique needs of Mohican citizens in higher education.

The “Many Trail Model”—its creation, explanation, and application—originated in my doctoral dissertation (Bowman, 2014, p. 109), which employs qualitative techniques with a phenomenological research design. The study sought to better understand and to explore Stockbridge-Munsee’s voices and stories as perceptions of experiences and beliefs related to their persistence in Wisconsin colleges.

At its core is the original Many Trails design created in 1965 by Edwin Martin, a Mohican Indian. The Many Trails design symbolizes endurance, strength, and hope from a long-suffering, yet proud and determined people. The curved shape represents arms raised in prayer. The circles represent many campfires. The lines represent the many trails taken from the time the Mohicans left their ancestral home. The black, white, red, and yellow colors represent the four original colors of the human race in American Indian culture.

The design was used as the basis for the “Many Trail Model,” which is conceived as a pathway of persistence that is constantly moving. Students may “step out” of college because they don’t have the essential components necessary to persist. Yet over time, students may “step in” to college because they have built within themselves the essential components necessary to persist and earn their degree.

While the works of Tinto (1993) and others in the field are often highlighted in higher education studies, they do not account for how American Indian students’ background, experiences, or perspectives impact their persistence in a holistically, culturally relevant higher education framework. For example, in Tinto’s model, students become integrated parts of the college and the academic institution represents the center of a student’s world. This is not necessarily true for Native students who come from tribal communities that serve as bridges between their worlds of home and school.

Therefore, to capture the cultural relevancy of Stockbridge-Munsee student persistence in higher education, the Many Trail Model utilizes a graphic representation of the Many Trails design—which has symbolic meaning for the Mohican Nation—to depict an American Indian–based education theory. Two education models or theories incorporated into the Many Trail Model are McAfee’s (1997) “Stepping Out Model” and Brayboy’s (2005) “TribalCrit Theory.” In the former study, McAfee employed an array of persistence subject indicators that described factors relating to not having (stepping out) and having (stepping in). In Brayboy’s theory, colonization is at the center of a series of identified tenets and is incorporated into the Many Trail Model to show how students work towards balancing two worlds within themselves. This highlights the difference between predominately non-Native colleges, which tend to be more linear, and tribal colleges, which are more holistic. Finally, HeavyRunner and DeCelles’ (2002) “Family Education Model” is incorporated under family/ social responsibility as an indicator for stepping out or in, while Secatero’s (2010) “Corn Model,” which incorporates the physical, mental, and social health of education under the indicator of life imbalances, rounds out the Many Trail Model.

All areas of the Many Trail Model overlapped with findings from prior research on American Indian persistence in higher education, except for two vital areas. One is the connection of culturally responsive teaching and curriculum in high schools as an opportunity to open fixed mindsets while simultaneously putting to rest discrimination, stereotyping, and prejudice. The other is the need for more traditional language and cultural programming for building and sustaining the Mohican Nation, which is found in the Stockbridge- Munsee community.

Overall, the Many Trail Model is another scholarly resource educators can use to gain a better understanding of the unique needs and challenges of Stockbridge- Munsee students in Wisconsin colleges. Although many TCUs have developed similar models, non-tribal institutions have not. Such culturally responsive tools can benefit educators who teach Native students, including those who have transferred to a mainstream college or university from a TCU. The intent of this symbolism is not to restrict who can use or benefit from this model, but rather is to serve as a tool to share with others to create a better understanding of American Indian persistence in higher education.

Jolene Bowman, Ph.D. (Stockbridge-Munsee) is the Education, Employment, and Training Director for the Mohican Nation. REFERENCES

Bowman, J. (2014). Student Voices: A Phenomenological Exploration of Stockbridge-Munsee Student’s Experiences and Strategies Related to Persisting in Wisconsin Colleges (doctoral dissertation). Milwaukee, WI: Cardinal Stritch University.

Brayboy, B.M.J. (2005). Toward a Tribal Critical Race Theory in Education. The Urban Review, 37(5), 425–446.

Davids, D. (2004). A Brief History of the Mohican Nation, Stockbridge- Munsee Band. Bowler, WI: Stockbridge-Munsee Historical Committee. Heavyrunner, I., & DeCelles, R. (2002). Family Education Model: Meeting the Student Retention Challenge. Journal of American Indian Education, 41(2), 29–37.

Loew, P. (2013). Indian Nations of Wisconsin, Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

McAfee, M. (1997). From Their Voices: American Indians in Higher Education and the Phenomenon of Stepping Out (doctoral dissertation). Fort Collins: Colorado State University.

Secatero, S.L. (2010). American Indian Well Being Model in Higher Education. Paper presented at the 4th International Indigenous Conference: Matauranga Taketake: Traditional Knowledge 2010 Conference, Auckland, New Zealand.

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Students Attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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