The Native Studies Leadership (NSL) program at Northwest Indian College (NWIC) is changing the way colleges and universities teach to Native students—and it is moving toward the original intent of Native studies as an academic discipline. NSL program development began with several community-based visioning processes held within the Lummi community. These exercises, combined with language research, created a body of knowledge from the people who lived in this place for thousands of years. All of this has informed the framework and content for the bachelor’s program in Native studies leadership.
The program was created to support a place-based learning philosophy, which allows for the curriculum to originate from tribal peoples’ language, stories, and histories. Therefore the program emerges from their own voice and is transmitted to the next generation in modern times. For example, the history and culture of the Lummi people is taught at NWIC’s main campus in Bellingham, Washington. NWIC also has six extended campus sites throughout Washington and Idaho. These sites have designed place-based curricula that is taught to their students rooted in their own history and culture.
The Native Studies Leadership program is unique because it allows students to specialize in Indigenous research, theory, and methods. The program has a two-course research sequence that discusses research paradigms from a Western perspective and contrasts them with Indigenous research paradigms. This introductory discussion examines the axiom that there is only one right way to conduct research. Mainstream academic disciplines, such as the humanities, social sciences, environmental sciences, etc., have a long-standing set of values and principles from which they teach. The NSL program at NWIC uses the tools found in Indigenous research, theories, and methods such as language, genealogy, origin stories, story sharing, as well as with qualitative and quantitative methods. Students are then able to explore research theory and methods in a way that supports their identity, Indigenous values, and their own traditional self-knowledge.
NSL emerging scholars learn the tools of both worldviews without compromising their own cultural ethics and principles. Indigenous scholars and students incorporate their own epistemology as the foundation for their writing. They are therefore using their original voice(s), validating their own past, and writing their own future.