Honoring Our Elders: Culturally Appropriate Approaches for Teaching Indigenous Students

Volume 28, No. 4 - Summer 2017
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HONORING OUR ELDERS EDITED BY JON REYHNER ET ALEdited by Jon Reyhner, Joseph Martin, Louise Lockard, and Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert
Northern Arizona University (2015)
212 pages

Review by Miranda J. Haskie

This is the third publication by Northern Arizona University’s College of Education in collaboration with the Conference for American Indian Indigenous Teacher Education. The book focuses on how to best teach Indigenous students. Most research methodologies seek to emphasize the voice of Indigenous students, parents, educators, and elders. In addition, there are the contemporary experiences from urban Indians, bicultural viewpoints, and even intergenerational perspectives about their education.

In their article, authors Castagno, et al. provide a realistic perspective about the deficit in preparing culturally responsive teachers for Indian Country. They make several valid points that offer explanations for why this remains a challenge, including the fact that graduates of teacher preparation programs must have mentors who practice culturally responsive teaching in the classroom. They point out that there’s a need for institutional commitments made on the part of colleges/universities to the tribal communities they serve. Moreover, graduates face pressure to conform and meet state and federal standards, or “patterns of assimilatory education,” despite the unique goals of Indigenous education.

In another article, author Willeto employs a sociological analysis from an Indigenous standpoint to examine academic achievement of American Indian/Alaskan Native (AI/AN) students. She cites older studies while recognizing the deficiencies of this examination, utilizing national education data. She examines gender, socioeconomic status, availability of a computer in the home, and parental education in a statistical analysis to identify the extent to which these influence AI/AN academic achievement. Willeto finds that if AI/AN students attended schools with lower economic resources, they in turn had lower academic achievement; further, not having a computer in the home translated to lower math achievement for AI/AN students.

Benally provides insightful research about Native American history instruction in an urban environment. Sadly, negative stereotypes about Native Americans remain in these contemporary times and too little regarding Native history exists in elementary and secondary school curricula. The author conducted interviews about the urban Indian experience and sought intergenerational input as parents discussed their wishes for their child’s instruction in Native history. One theme in Benally’s study was the process of “turning away,” which was a painful reality experienced by many urban Indians who feel rejected by both the non- Natives with whom they co-exist and tribal members who think they are not “Indian enough.” The interviewees offered “suggested content” on how to update curriculum in Native history so that it celebrates American Indian contributions.

In her study, Manuelito discusses a case about the educational journey of one Navajo teacher who noticed a language shift in the Navajo Nation, prompting her to enroll in a Navajo teacher education program. Upon completion, she became a certified teacher at a Navajo immersion school. She emphasizes the importance of mentorship along with a personal desire to address the language shift and work towards language revitalization. Admittedly, she states the Navajo language is a difficult language to learn and the support from parents and the community, along with the school, is mandatory to achieve a reversal of this language shift.

In their article, Lemley and Teller discuss intergenerational language transmission via the Menominee Language Revitalization Programs. The authors employed the research methodology of narrative inquiry and applied Indigenous discourses of Menominee voices across three generations that articulate the themes of culture, language, and land as essential to identity. Language is noted as a carrier of culture. According to the Menominee interviewed for this study, they note that today learning the Menominee language is perceived as “more than just learning to speak words.” It conveys tribal history, ancestral stories, and cultural teachings. Throughout each interview, the themes of communal identity and the importance of land to one’s Menominee identity emerge.

In all, this monograph delivers on culturally appropriate approaches for teaching Indigenous students.

Miranda J. Haskie, Ed.D. (Diné), coordinated the Navajo Oral History Project and teaches sociology at Diné College.

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