Creating Pathways toward Geoscience Education for Native American Youth: The Importance of Cultural Relevance and Self-Concept

By Unsworth, Sara; Riggs, Eric M. et al. | Journal of Geoscience Education, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Creating Pathways toward Geoscience Education for Native American Youth: The Importance of Cultural Relevance and Self-Concept


Unsworth, Sara, Riggs, Eric M., Chavez, Marc, Journal of Geoscience Education


Sara Unsworth,13 Eric M. Riggs,2 and Marc Chavez3

ABSTRACT

Native American nations in the United States have a unique legal status that is rooted in a complex relationship between the United States federal government, individual state and local governments and tribal authorities. Although geosciences are often at the center of these relationships, especially as they pertain to the development of natural resources, tribal economics, and environmental stewardship, Native Americans remain severely underrepresented in advanced geoscience education. We evaluated the effectiveness of a culturally grounded, field-based geoscience education program for Native American adolescents using pre- and postprogram surveys. The results showed that at the end of the program, youth were more likely to agree that their tribe uses science to manage natural resources, their tribe has always used science, and earth and rocks make them who they are. These responses were related to an increased likelihood to agree that what can be learned in school is important to their tribe, that they will go to university, and that they could be scientists as adults. These findings highlight the importance of two factors in helping to create pathways toward the geosciences for Native youth: 1) perceived relevance of science to tribes, and 2) self-concepts (e.g., concepts of self as earth, rocks, and scientist).

© 2012 National Association of Geoscience Teachers. [DOI: 10.5408/11-218.1]

Key words: Native American, geoscience, education, culture, resource management, self-concept

INTRODUCTION

Native American nations in the United States have a unique legal status among indigenous peoples around the world. This status is related to the particular details of European colonization of North America over the last 500 years and the subsequent founding of the United States in the late 18th century. The legal status and history leads to continuing development challenges and opportunities rooted in the complex relationship between the United States federal government, individual state and local governments, and tribal authorities. The geosciences have been and still are often at the center of these relationships, especially as they pertain to the development of natural resources, tribal economics, and environmental stewardship. Importantly, however, Native Americans remain severely underrepresented in the sciences in general and in the geosciences specifically (National Science Foundation, 2007). In the present work, we evaluated the effectiveness of a culturally grounded, field-based geoscience education program for Native American students as a step toward increasing our understanding of the factors that motivate students to pursue formal education in the geosciences.

The Problem: Resource Management and Educational Disparities

For Native American reservation communities in the United States, the geosciences have a bearing on future economic and social conditions as well as on sustainability and improvement of environmental conditions. According to data presented in Henson et al. (2007, p. 161), tribal lands in the contiguous lower 48 states of the United States contain 30% of the U.S. coal reserves, 40% of U.S. uranium deposits, and 4% of oil and natural gas deposits. Indian lands also have considerable freshwater, timber, and other agricultural resources. Federal government and history is replete with examples of resource dispossession over Native objections. The resulting need for Native American earth and environmental science expertise in reservation-based communities has been well-documented (Guerrero, 1992; Semken and Morgan, 1997; Grenier, 1998; Semken, 1999; Karr, 2000; Riggs and Semken, 2001; Marcus, 2002; Riggs and Riggs, 2003). However, the income and educational and social disparities between reservation communities and other American populations is striking, and Native Americans remain underrepresented in advanced education in general and in the sciences specifically. …

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