American education has neglected and failed to nurture the intelligence of Indian students and been unsuccessful in motivating academic success for American Indians. Instead, it has perpetrated systematic cultural extermination, wounding the souls of Indian people in an immeasurable way.
Tribal educators believe strongly in the restorative power of culture-based education. By combining relevant Western instructional strategies and content with the best of traditional wisdom, tribal education promotes a rigorous academic experience that restores cultural identity to individual Indian students and tribal nations.
Tribally controlled colleges were born from tribes recognizing that educational sovereignty could reverse some of the damage done by western systems. Tribal colleges have the unique mission of promoting academic success while strengthening cultural identity and cultural pride. American Indian students have succeeded in these institutions, which recognize, celebrate, and amplify Native intelligence and cultural identity. In such environments, American Indians can reclaim and build upon the intellectual capital of their ancestors and return the wisdom of the people.
Armed with knowledge, academic self-efficacy and personal dignity, graduates of tribal academic institutions are now leading a new generation of healthy and empowered Native people. Their stance is, “I am an Indian and I am educated.” According to Dr. Susan Chavez Cameron of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, the number of highly educated American Indians now working in federal positions has greatly influenced American Indian well-being. Educated Native policy makers have helped reduce poverty, increase health, and improved mental health across Indian Country.usa Chavez Cameron of the
The five-year Woksape Oyate project at the American Indian College Fund provides funding from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. to build intellectual capital at tribal colleges and universities. Project results highlight their growing institutional capacity. The data also unearthed an interesting parallel on the institutional level to the growing self-efficacy among Native students. In the process of naming and claiming the unique intellectual capital at each place and for the People served, the tribal colleges have also increased their institutional self-efficacy, academic status and cultural identity. Because of project success, there is a growing momentum at tribal colleges and universities to reach higher and seek increasing excellence for students and communities. A number of colleges have reported that the project has increased credibility within their communities as institutions of higher learning – and particularly as tribal institutions of higher learning. Healing is occurring in tribal communities as a result.
Dr. Henrietta Mann said, “Without question, Native peoples have always believed in education and its ability to draw out inner potential to promote self-sufficient, self-confident, positive thinking and knowledgeable people with the emotional intelligence to build quality lives.” Today, the tribal colleges and universities lead the way in identifying—naming and claiming their distinctive wisdom the thereby restoring the intellectual spirit of the People.
–by Deborah Esquibel-Hunt, Ph.D.