The Hoop of Learning: A Holistic, Multisystemic Model for Facilitating Educational Resilience among Indigenous Students

Article excerpt

Indigenous communities in the United States have a wealth of cultural and social resources that can facilitate educational resilience among Native students. This article reviews the historical context, contemporary trends, and current challenges related to education of Indigenous students. The authors present an innovative middle school-to-high school-to-college bridge program as one example of many positive educational initiatives currently developing across the country.

"You who are wise must know that different Nations have different conceptions of things and you will therefore not take it amiss, if our ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours."

Canaassatego, 1744 Leader of the Six Nations, Lancaster, PA


The story of education of Indigenous Peoples in the United States is often told" ... as though it were a tragedy ... highlighting deficiency, failure, and negative trends ... But this dismal view is only half the picture" (Wang & Gordon, 1994, p. ix). This article reviews the historical context, current challenges, and contemporary trends related to education of Indigenous Peoples, highlighting factors related to positive outcomes. The authors present examples of educational programs that foster educational resilience and describe one high school-to-college bridge program in detail. This program is one example of a school-community partnership that mobilizes and combines resources of a high school district and the surrounding community to facilitate educational resilience in Native students. Preliminary outcome data are elaborated.

Historical Context

Since first contact, the well-being of Indigenous Peoples has been continuously challenged by political, economic, social and cultural oppression. Nevertheless, Indigenous Peoples have survived, and are among the fastest growing population groups in the United States (Locke, 1992). In 1990, there were an estimated 2 million Indigenous people in the U.S. This is a 38 percent increase over the recorded 1980 population, and four times the 1960 population estimate (Lewis, 1995; Marger, 1994). There are 660 federally recognized tribes and an additional 200 tribes still struggling with legal and government agencies to gain federal recognition (Wright, Lopez, & Zumwalt, 1997). Indigenous Peoples are also one of the youngest population groups in the United States (Locke, 1992). With an average age of 16, the majority of Native people are, or soon will be, of age to enter college (Aguirre & Baker, 2000).

Educational Traditions among Indigenous Peoples

Every Indigenous nation has its own teachings and methods for educating children and adolescents. This has been true since long before contact with European colonizers. Hampton states,

   "Generally, these traditionally Indian forms of education can be
   characterized as oral histories, teaching stories, ceremonies,
   apprenticeships, learning games, formal instruction, tutoring, and
   tag-along teaching ... all of the traditional Native methods took place
   within cultural settings that were characterized by subsistence economies,
   in-context learning, personal and kinship relationships between teachers
   and students, and ample opportunities for students to observe adult role
   models who provided good examples of the knowledge, skills, and values
   being taught" (1993, p. 268).

Overcoming A Legacy of Miseducation

The legacy of political, economic, social and cultural oppression is inextricably intertwined with the experience of Indigenous Peoples in the United States educational system. European colonizers have attempted to use the educational system to remake Indigenous Peoples in the image of Europeans (Aguirre & Baker, 2000). Consequently, the high school drop out rate for Native people is estimated to be about 50% nationally. It is as high as 85% in some regions. …