Policing of Native Bodies and Minds

Quijada Cerecer, P. D.  (2013).  The policing of Native bodies and minds:  Perspectives on schooling from American Indian youth.  American Journal of Education, 111(4), p. 591-616.


In Patricia P. Quijada Cerecer’s (2013) article, “The Policing of Native Bodies and Minds:  Perspectives on Schooling from American Indian Youth,” Quijada Cerecer analyzes “how school policies and leadership practices have assimilationist underpinnings that create hostile environments for these youth, negatively affecting their identities as learners.”  Using four of the nine Tribal Critical Race Theory tenets, Quijada analyzed how “colonization is endemic to society,” “U.S. policies toward Indigenous peoples are rooted in imperialism, White supremacy, and a desire for material gain,” Indigenous peoples occupy a liminal space that account for the political and racialized natures of our identities,” and “educational policies toward Indigenous peoples are intimately linked around the problematic goal of assimilation” (Brayboy, 2005).

The study involved 21 high school Pueblo youth (11 female and 10 male).  Participants must be students at the public high school and have lived on or near the reservation for at least 10 years.  The author decided upon this requirement to “capture perspectives of students who had lived on the reservation for most of their lives” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  Data was taken from the qualitative study that spanned over the course of 5 years.  The data were collected from interviews, focus groups, and observations with students, families and community members.

Quijada Cerecer said, “the research unveils a narrative that runs counter to the ‘neutral’ tone embedded throughout institutional policies alleging to foster healthy academic identities for all students; instead, the youth’s experiences and voices illustrate how campus climates and institutional policies restrict and control Native students.”  This was supported by the leadership decisions to hire a police officer to work on campus even though there had not been a history of violence or gangs on campus.  It was also supported by the implementation of a dress code, in which all students had to wear khaki pants, and, again, there had never been an issue with gang-related activities.

The study found that “leadership practices and curriculum did not reflect Native views of the world or lived experiences” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  This was reflected in Arizona’s banned books initiative, which included some Native American authored books, such as Sherman Alexie.  William, an eleventh grader, also posed important questions to the researcher and his peers, “’Why do we have to learn the White man’s way?  Why can’t we learn our way?’” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  Quijada Cerecer wrote, “his question underscores the notion that schools expect Native American youth to learn and adopt a white identity as students learners.  In other words, schools expect Native youth to assimilate.”  She also found that, for the most part, students were not actively involved or encouraged to become involved in ways to improve the school’s policies or leadership activities.


I appreciate Quijada Cerecer’s requirement of having lived on or near the reservation for most of their lives to get a more accurate perspective of what schooling has been like for these students.  I also thought it was a great idea to have the study span over a 5 year time period.  However, I would have liked to read more dialogue that occurred between her and those she interviewed, students, families and community members.  It seems as though she selected snippets that would support her research.  Out of the 21 students who participated less than a handful were presented in her article.  This leaves me wondering if they had seen and felt the same divide as the ones she did include.  Or, if their perspectives did not support her research.

Because I like visuals, I would have liked to see a record of her data, either in the form of a chart, graph, or diagram.  I would imagine that she would have extensive data to share considering her study lasted for 5 years.  I feel like the numbers would have made this article more impactful.  Instead, I feel like she molded her data into what she wanted it to be.   Which led me to question, again and as we have discussed in class on several occasions, is there such a thing as objective research??

Quijada Cerecer mentioned Arizona’s ban on books that was a result of the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson Unified School District.  However, I questioned whether or not this had an impact in New Mexico.  If not, then why mention it?  Unless it was just to support her research, which led me to wonder if her data was limited or non-existent during the course of her 5-year research.


As I began to read this article, I immediately connected with it because this is something that I am very interested in.  For the purpose of this blog, I did not delve into the story of Mr. Thompson, a white English teacher, because he would have consumed this entire blog.  While I understand Quijada Cerecer’s desire to include his racist perspectives, I wonder about the other teachers.  I wonder if there were other teachers that did their best to include culturally relevant material in their classrooms.  I wonder if other teachers valued their students and built positive relationships with them.

I remember when the controversy with the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson.  I worked in its sister department, the Native American Studies Department for 4 years.  I saw their classes in action, and it was nothing like it was portrayed by the opposition.  I was saddened when they had to dismantle the program because I knew what the students walked away with.  And, it most definitely was not trying to find ways to overthrow the U.S. government.  They did not walk away with hatred for other races.  They walked away empowered by their culture, knowledge of their own history, and an appreciation for others.

This study has made me think about how I could do something similar with my students, their families and community members.  I am truly interested in learning more about their perspectives and how they have changed over the years, if at all.  One of Quijada Cerecer’s suggestions was to form both student and parent councils that report to an administrator.  I wonder if this is something that my principal or superintendent would be open to doing.  If not, I will find a way to make someone listen.  Our school need a voice.  And, I know my students want to be heard.  I am going to make this happen, one way or another.

Brayboy, B. M. K.  (2005).  Toward a tribal critical race theory in education.  The Urban Review, (37)5, p. 425-446.

Quijada Cerecer, P. D.  (2013).  The policing of Native bodies and minds:  Perspectives on schooling from American Indian youth.  American Journal of Education, 111(4), p. 591-616.

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Tanya Suydam

1 comment — post a comment

Mona Scott

Tanya, this is an interesting study. I too am interested in Indigenous students but at the college level. What I find even at the college level is an inability to understand sovereignty and what that means for identity. Native youth are not “minorities” they are citizens of their nations.
As for what you want to do at your school, Why not have youth talk to community members, elders and have the elders talk with the administrator too. I think this in a very real way is inclusive and strengthens the community. Everyone is on the same page and the administration will see that students are represented by the community- strength in numbers.

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