Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

A Bridge for Our Children: Tribal/university Partnerships to Prepare Indigenous Teachers

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

A Bridge for Our Children: Tribal/university Partnerships to Prepare Indigenous Teachers

Article excerpt

... my mother instructs us to be a bridge for our children between the two worlds by teaching them the richness of the Navajo culture and language.

--Salita Begay (1)

Being Hopi is more than identity, it is a way of thinking, viewing, and life.

--Samantha Honani (2)

This article is about bridge building: building cultural bridges of authentic collaboration between the university and the Navajo (3) and Hopi nations; building curricular bridges between the White, European culture and the cultural worlds these nations seek to preserve; and building bridges between languages, the language of the colonizers--English--and the Navajo and Hopi languages that are vulnerable to extinction. As bridge builders we locate our work between the future--with a commitment to the students our students will teach--and a distant past, prior to Contact, when American Indian communities effectively educated young people into their tribal history, language, values, science, and all other forms of knowledge necessary to maintain their way of life. After Contact, everything changed. Schooling for American Indian students became a process of deculturalization (Spring, 1994), a process of colonizing the minds of conquered people (Adams, 1995; Szasz, 1999) by erasing their language (Fordham, 1998; Spolsky, 2001), denigrating their culture, and teaching exclusive acceptance of the dominating white male Eurocentric culture. This legacy of institutional racism (see Huff, 1997) persists today in educational institutions at every level. As Barnhardt and Kawagley (2005) explain,

   Until recently, there was very little literature that addressed how
   to get ... educators to understand Native worldviews and ways of
   knowing as constituting knowledge systems in their own right, and
   even less on what it means for participants when such divergent
   systems coexist in the same person ... Our challenge now is to
   devise a system of education for all people that respects the
   epistemological and pedagogical foundations provided by Indigenous
   as well as Western cultural systems ... [to] reconnect education to
   a sense of place and its attendant cultural practices and
   manifestations. (p. 9, 10)

University/tribal collaborations to prepare Indigenous teacher/scholars are crucial if we are to meet this educational challenge.

The pattern of under-representation of Indian educators replicates the national pattern of other cultural groups. Many students of color are attracted to fields outside of education where recruiting is more effective, and where monetary rewards and prestige are higher. High student attrition rates, students' difficulties with standardized tests and college admission requirements, and the unresponsiveness of colleges and universities to the needs, abilities, and expectations of students of color are formidable obstacles.

We write of our work with the Hopi and Navajo nations to share how we face these obstacles. We also write conscious of the damaging legacy of much educational research about Indigenous peoples (see Smith, 1999) and join Villenas, Deyhle, and Parker (1999) who advocate for the inclusion of Critical Race Theory analysis to "provide educational researchers with an interdisciplinary, race-based interpretive framework aimed toward social justice ... [a] perspective that has generally been absent from mainstream educational research" (p. 32). This perspective is crucial for addressing racism and for informing our development of curriculum that can heal the damage of colonial schooling. Drawing upon the Indigenous practice of oral storytelling (Hermes, 1998; Smith, 1999), we write here with careful attention to the words and perspectives of those most nearly touched, the former students and staff members.

While there is much scholarly conversation about the importance of culturally responsive teachers (Deloria & Wildcat, 2001), we find minimal attention to the particulars of programs like ours that are focused specifically upon increasing the number of culturally responsive Indigenous teachers through tribal/university partnerships, and insufficient appraisal of what is working within such initiatives (see Hermes, 2005; Pavel, et al, 2002 for exceptions). …

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