Thursday, July 06, 2006

Native American perspectives on education in the U.S.A.

A good friend, Anne Magnan, read the previous posts regarding LeaderShape and the difference in cultural perspectives expressed by native American students who attended the Institute in June. Inside Higher Education included a June 30 article on "Shoe Leather Recruiting," an analysis of why native American students mistrust education. "Education was used to force assimilation in an organized government fashion," noted Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana (Little Hoop) Community College in N.D. "There's that whole Great White Father myth that we live with, and educated Indians are sometimes seen as 'thinking they're better' than reservation Indians." Native populations have the lowest college graduation rate of all student groups in the U.S.A., an example being California, which has 200,000 native Americans in the state yet only 2,850 enrolled in the Cal state system. The article goes on to explain that native Americans have been told by their elders and family members of the required boarding schools of the 19th and 20th centures, where Indians were forced to leave their culture behind by adapting to the standards of the European settlers who took over their land.

Universities that have been successful in increasing the success of native students have established relationships with specific tribes, a model embraced by Miami University in its relationship with the Miami tribe that inhabited Ohio and Indiana prior to settlement. A key issue in attracting and retaining some tribal students is the idea of returning to their communities. In an attempt to protect their heritage and maintain a critical mass in their tribes, some native Americans fear that going to college and receiving a degree will result in their not returning to their family and communities. Finding ways to enhance career opportunities in tribal communities through education institutions that prepare young adults for these prospects is key. While a progressive view would embrace the idea that all citizens would have the opportunity to pursue education and careers wherever they liked, providing opportunities to gain education, improving one's standard of living, and maintaining one's cultural heritage is also valid and critical if the presence of native peoples is to be maintained in North America.

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