Guide for Educators To Feature Tribal College Professionals’ Work



Dina Horwedel

Teacher Education Across Minority Serving Institutions: Programs, Policies, and Social Justice, edited by Emery Petchauer and Lynnette Mawhinney, is a new guide for educators that shares successful teaching practices and teacher education programs from minority-serving institutions and how they are creating social change and transforming communities in the process.

Two TCU professors’ work cites the importance of community relationships when creating education programs. The Native approach to teaching, in which educators collaborate with parents and the community to integrate Native knowledge and cultural understanding into curriculum, best reflects Native community values. The approach is also proven: it grounds children in their identity, building healthy approaches to learning and healthy relationships, and creates positive validation of community ideas, helping students to succeed academically and socially.

The Navajo nation established the first tribal college in 1968 to provide place-based education steeped in language and culture for its community. Other tribal communities followed in the spirit of self-determination to create higher education institutions to serve their communities. Today, 37 TCUs serve American Indian communities across the United States, located on or near Indian reservations, 34 of which are accredited.

In “Learning from the Community: Innovative Partnerships That Inform Tribal College Teacher Education Programming,” Danielle Lansing, an instructor at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a TCU in Albuquerque, New Mexico, details how community-based partnerships created a strong, culturally based early childhood education curriculum and preservice teaching opportunities.

Lansing shares that for generations Native parents were excluded because they were seen as an impediment to their children’s assimilation. Yet consulting parents is paramount in defining community culture when creating education programs to develop engaged tribal citizens.

SIPI engaged early childhood education parents through a Photovoice Project. Using photographs, they answered research questions that allowed them to act as change agents for their children’s education, many for the first time.

Parents shared the need for their children to learn about their tribal heritage and cultures, a connection to ancestral homelands, kinship connections, the value of Native teachings and knowledge, and creating harmonious relationships.

The Photovoice Project also provided preservice teachers with new opportunities to implement a locally created curriculum; experience fully developed practicum experiences and curriculum that integrate language and culture; and develop strong connections with teachers and community members.

Lansing says TCUs are ideal institutions for creating community-based partnerships between tribal nations and families because of their unique missions and tribal communities. These partnerships strengthen early childhood education by creating innovative education practices and culturally infused curriculum, and positively impact preservice teachers by building their capacity to create community change.

In “The Future of Teacher Education at TCUs: A Talking Circle of Education Warriors,” Dr. Carmelita Lamb, a former TCU a former TCU chair at Turtle Mountain Community College (serving the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota) and current Chair of Graduate Studies and Distance Education-University of Mary, Bismarck, North Dakota, shares how intertribal and inter-institutional collaboration in the Native community helped empower more Native students in their educational journey without requiring them to leave their communities. She illustrates how collaboration and grassroots-based education have transformed how TCUs implement higher education to meet their communities’ needs.

Using the Native tradition of Talking Circles, Lamb interviewed education department chairs to deepen relationships and discern the current status of education programs at TCUs, current challenges, and their vision for teacher education in Indian Country.

Lamb delves into professional relationships at TCUs and a shared mission of promoting student success with a focus on “deeply personal [student] relationships.”

Lamb worked with institutions offering education programs to identify the concerns and successes of TCU department chairs, including inadequate funding to maintain courses of study, the need for technological resources, and disparity in federal funding opportunities across institutions for TCU teacher education programs. Students also face transportation challenges, lack of or shortage of student housing, and funding issues that prevent enrollment or completion.

It is not surprising to anyone involved with TCUs that the same programmatic and institutional successes Lamb’s interviews reveal are those Lansing identifies as the underpinnings of SIPI’s early childhood education program success. The work of TCUs shows that collaborative and culturally based curriculum help Native students succeed while furthering “…the efforts of their ancestors to pursue a better future for all Native people.”

Dina Horwedel is the director of public education for the American Indian College Fund, the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education. She holds a B.S. degree in journalism with honors from Bowling Green State University and a J.D. degree from Cleveland State University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s