Indigenous Community: Rekindling the Teachings of the Seventh Fire

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

Indigenous Community: Rekindling the Teachings of the Seventh Fire By Gregory A. CajeteBy Gregory A. Cajete
Living Justice Press (2015)
252 pages

Review by Linda Sue Warner

In his new book, Tewa scientist and educator, Gregory Cajete, begins with an insightful, studied reflection of Indigenous identity in his first chapter, “Indigenous Identity and the Making of an Indigenous Teacher.” This framework forms the premise of the book and, I believe, serves to explain both the successes and failures of Indian educators. Cajete particularly describes those missteps by Indians without a connected tribal identity and their tolerance for low-quality products—not only in their own work, but in their students’ work. At the same time, he describes multiple scenarios which mirror classroom interactions where teachers connect their students’ critical thinking skills to their identity and to the identity of their community. Cajete describes this work as a “treatise,” but I believe that American Indian educators should read and study and claim it as a professional manifesto. He urges us to “draw from the foundations of traditional and historic forms of indigenous education and simultaneously engage contemporary education in strategic ways.”

Cajete’s training in both hard and soft sciences—as a biology major coupled with a sociology degree—provides an extraordinary interdisciplinary view of education that is grounded in decades of experience with American Indian students in schools where assimilationists’ perspectives created daily tensions. While Cajete’s work with multiple tribal nations is evident, he discusses traditional knowledge of community by reflecting on his personal experiences and Tewa traditions, without falling into the clichéd “mystical view of native science.” The early chapters of this book unfold the scholarship of this interdisciplinary view by defining community.

Cajete then uses storytelling to explain Indigenous pedagogy. In an extended metaphor, he provides stories that reflect the gathering of quantitative data required by mainstream scientists and qualitative evidence found in the soft sciences. He uses these stories to examine human communities and to evaluate the evidence of “that place that Indigenous people talk about.” As an educator, sociologist, and scientist, Cajete’s observations on the politics of education and the power of those politics to shape teaching and learning reflect an activist voice, as he calls for a revitalization and ultimately empowerment of Indigenous communities through education.

Cajete’s manifesto ends with an examination of Indigenous leadership, where he proposes an Indigenous leadership curriculum to create classrooms that encourage the dialogue of revitalization built on Indigenous traditions, culture, and language. Cajete says “knowing, learning and remembering” should endorse our vision of Indigenous education—a vision that can both inform a 21st-century Indigenous community and, more importantly, a 21st-century non-Indigenous community.

Linda Sue Warner, Ph.D. (Comanche) is an educator, author, mother, and leader in American Indian higher education.

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