Be Still My Warrior Heart! A Revitalizing Indigenous Education Pedagogy Rooted in Sovereignty

McCarty, Y. & Lee, T. (2014). Critical culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogy and Indigenous education sovereignty. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1) 101-124.


Source: Photo by Tarrice Love in Indian County today 4/28/14

Source: Photo by Tarrice Love in Indian County today 4/28/14

I am in research practice love. Okay, maybe not the kind of “love” Martin Sensmeier evokes but love just the same. McCarty and Lee had me at “revitalizing”! As an educator and member of the Navajo Nation I am well read on and conscious of critical race theory, culturally based and culturally relevant pedagogies and Indigenous sovereignty so finding the article, Critical Culturally Sustaining/Revitalizing Pedagogy and Indigenous Education Sovereignty was exciting! Once I started reading I was absorbed in how one word, revitalizing which means “to make (someone or something) active, healthy or energetic again” ( can convey in a powerful way, our need to reclaim our former selves by transforming education for Indigenous leaners. More than a culturally sustaining pedagogy as described by Paris (2012) where “both traditional and evolving ways of cultural connectedness [are supported] for contemporary youth” (p. 102), culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogy (CSRP) means to bring us back to life with our identities, language, culture and worldviews intact.

McCarty and Lee (2014) use an ethnographic approach rooted in CSRP to lie out a beautiful and powerful theoretical practice. They “advocate for community-based educational accountability that is rooted in Indigenous education sovereignty” (p. 101). They begin their argument establishing Indigenous education as a form of sovereignty that includes the right of a people to self-education rooted in their Native culture and language. The authors also place Indigenous education in a sociohistorical context rooted in systems of power and domination that methodologically separated Indigenous peoples from their lands, languages, and identities. It is this context where a culturally sustaining and revitalizing pedagogy is necessitated.

The authors identify three defining components of CSRP

  • Exercising sovereignty to transform ongoing legacies of colonization,
  • Reclaiming and revitalizing language education, policies and practices,
  • Serving the needs of the community (as defined by the community) through community-based accountability.

Next, the authors give an overview of the sociolinguistic history for Indigenous learners in the U.S. by centering the magnitude of the issue among 566 federally recognized tribes, with 617 communities and villages where 67-92% of tribal members live off of tribally controlled lands. This means a majority of Indigenous learners are attending schools away from their communities and Alaska native villages. The authors cite the 2010 census where 1 in 10 youth speak their ancestral language. What is seminal to this reality of social life and the need to reclaim language and identity is that the authors argue that despite not being schooled on tribally operated lands, “… tribal sovereignty must include education sovereignty…. in the same way that schools are accountable to state and federal governments, so too are they accountable to the Native American nations whose children they serve” (p. 102). That is a powerful sovereign stance!

Finally, the authors use two charter schools with significant Indigenous learners as case studies to illustrate CSRP in practice. Both schools are charter schools that have some flexibility in their curriculum compared to county public schools and both are in cities near Indigenous communities. Both schools offer language immersion programs as part of their core curriculum and teach culture and protocol with the language. Researcher, Tiffany Lee was involved in the first case study site, Native American Community Academy (NACA), on multiple levels first as a parent, then staff member, council member and researcher. She conducted her research from 2008 -2010 using “in-depth interviews, focus groups, and recorded daily observations of language and teaching” (McCarty & Lee, 2014, p. 106) though she had been with the school since 2005. Researcher, Teresa McCarty, conducted her research at Puente de Hózhó (PdH) from 2009-2011 as part of a national study in response to a 2004 Executive Order 13336 on American Indian and Alaska Native education. She used ethnographic observations of teachers’ monthly curriculum meetings, classroom instruction, individual and focus group interviews with youth, parents and staff, and content analysis of students’ work, teachers’ lesson plans and school documents. The authors use a community-based methodology with the two schools as their foundation and guiding research ethic. They shared their observations and analysis with the participants throughout the process and supplemented their qualitative data with state-required achievement data.

The grounds for this research as a revitalizing pedagogy is the practice of engaging the emotions that derive from the legacies of colonization, what Paris and Alim (2014) describe as the inward gaze, “a decolonizing critique to deconstruct essentialism that reduce the multidimensionality of human experience,…” (p. 118). The authors witnessed the inward gaze as teachers, staff and students dealt with the internalized oppression as a result of colonization. In one example, a student is concerned she will be seen as a “fake Indian” because she isn’t fluent in her language. What it means to be Indigenous is based upon controlling images and romantic stereotypical notions created by the dominant group. Students internalize these stereotypes and believe they are less “Indian” because they are not fluent in their language. Addressing this mis-education and legacy of colonization is what is meant by the inward gaze.

The findings indicate that students outperformed their Indigenous counterparts in non-CSRP schools on the dominant culture standardized tests. More than test scores, however, were the rich and deep stories of the teachers, students and parents. Teachers expressed teaching in a school with a holistic curriculum has given them a tool to reverse the legacy of colonization, “heal forced linguistic wounds and convey important cultural and linguistic knowledge to future generations…” (p. 117). One parent in the study expressed bitter pride that her child was the only grandchild who could speak Navajo to his grandparent. A student expressed that knowing how to speak the language is important as Indigenous people. Schools were not without their challenges, as they had to incorporate the mandates of state, county and national standards.

McCarty and Lee offer two examples of Indigenous-centered pedagogy that are community-based, sustaining and revitalizing for Indigenous learners. This study, specifically CSRP, is a lens I would like to use in my own research. I gleaned so much from this article. Despite the focus on elementary level charter schools there is much that can be applied and practiced at the college level. The inward gaze, culturally sustaining pedagogy and community based collaboration and grounding. The authors cite heavy-hitters in Indigenous epistemologies and culturally sustaining pedagogies like Teresa McCarty, Bryan M.J. Brayboy, K. T. Lomawaima, Tiffany Lee, L. T. Smith, and Django Paris which guides me to establish a foundation in different areas of inquiry like culturally sustaining pedagogy and the practice of Indigenous education and epistemologies. I am looking forward to utilizing these new approaches in my own developing practice.


Paris, D. & Alim, S. (2014). What are we seeking to sustain through culturally sustaining pedagogy? A loving critique forward. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 85-100.

McCarty, Y. & Lee, T. (2014). Critical culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogy and Indigenous education sovereignty. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1) 101-124.

Revitalizing [Def. 1]. Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved June 20, 2014 , from



Objectivity and the White Racial Frame Subdued?


(From author's personal files)

(From author’s personal files)

I was suspicious of an article from Anthropology Education Quarterly, Indigenous Epistemologies and Education—Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights (McCarty, 2005) because of the role of anthropologists in cultural appropriation, genocide, reinforcing romantic notions of and problematizing Indigenous peoples and a host of other negative outcomes for non-Whites. The editor, however, confesses to the discipline’s role in this brutal history and expresses the need for centering Indigenous epistemologies (ways of knowing). It sounds good. The theme of the editorial piece is a call for systemic change to center Indigenous voices. Given the power of white logic, the white racial frame, centuries of relegating all things non-White to the margins, is it possible for researchers using dominant culture tools and logic to achieve such a movement? This is what it would have to be, a movement. I’ll return to this question later.

Several articles about action research by authors such as Jean Lave, Teresa McCarty, and Renato Rosaldo expose us once more to thinking about our standpoint, intersections, and identities as researchers in relation to our practice. In Culture and Truth, Rosaldo (1993) forces us to examine the ridiculousness of using objective descriptions to explain deeply human interaction and events in cultures that are not our own. When researchers do this they are subscribing to social norms of a science established to be distanced, unemotional, and dominant, in many ways, stereotypically masculine and oppressive. Rosaldo describes how this is harmful in ethnography. “Such accounts visualize people’s actions from the outside and fail to provide the participants’ reflections in their own experiences. They normalize by presenting generalized recipes for ritual action…. (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 58). Interestingly, this gaze or white racial frame as coined by sociologist Joe Feagin has been the dominant framing that has allowed systemic racism to flourish for over 400 years.

A brief historical note: Carolus Linneas, a biologist and the person credited with the organization system for the plant and animal world, together with Blumenbach, a physician, naturalist and anthropologist, believed that people could be categorized into racial groups—much like plants and animals. Linneaus created the categories, and Blumenbach, believing race to be about phenotype and temperament, went so far as to assign meaning to each group, essentially, a racial hierarchy.

Groups of Humankind Temperament
Africanus Black skin; phlegmatic (sluggish), slow, relaxed, negligent
Americanus Red Skin; choleric (quick-tempered), straightforward, eager, combative
Asiaticus Yellow skin: melancholic, inflexible, severe, avaricious
Europeanus White skin and muscular body; sanguine (warm), swift, clever, inventive
(As illustrated in Scott, 2012)

These racial hierarchies are the roots of the social norms we have been socialized into today—the norms that we are challenged to reconsider, resist and replace. In doing this work, Jean Lave in Changing Practice (2012), challenges the silence surrounding researchers’ political stance and the lack of research rooted in time and place. While recognizing that his discipline of Cultural Ethnography is developing theory with the person at the forefront “…for engagement in a political struggle for a different, more inclusive, just and habitable world (Lave, 2012, p. 156) he also recognizes the absence of critical reflection, an awareness of our own political and cultural locations, and the constraints of our own research. Lave talks at length about the contributions of political and social scientist, Antonio Gramsci and his contribution to critical thought. Gramsci was taken with Frederick Taylor’s (the man who developed scientific management and who devised ways to get the most work out of workers in the industrial era) comment that a trained gorilla would make a better worker than a human being because of an inability to think. Gramsci, writing in the early 20th century, believed that the “aim of American society is to develop a mechanical and automatic behavior …where workers carry out repetitive movements without the use of imagination, …creativity, thus forget their craft, … culture… and origins” (as stated by Guiseppe Fiori in the documentary, New York and the mystery of Naples). I think Gramsci was on to something. With the help of 18th century racialization, the colonization of the Americas and establishment of white supremacy, many people adhere to social norms based on the dominant culture, the white culture, without question.

What this means is difficulty for many Whites and those who have embraced the white racial frame to think critically about their own identities, political struggles, value systems, location in relation to others, and essentially the relationship between culture and power. Whiteness is invisible and omnipotent such that when non-Whites engage in truth telling, our experiences are relegated to anecdotes, distortions or are merely subordinated to other more powerful voices (Lave, 1993). Two examples from the literature and one from a recent experience illustrate this.

In Culture and Truth, while Rosaldo makes the case for examining our culture and the interplay between culture and power, he states in his argument that “in many cases the oppressed fail to talk straight [my emphasis]. Precisely because of their oppression, subordinate people often avoid unambiguous literal speech. They take up more oblique modes of address laced with double meanings, metaphor, irony and humor” (p. 190). Whether he meant it to read that way or not, there is a value judgment in that statement, not in favor of subalterns. In Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Pivovarova (2014), in her research on the impact of tracking on students states, “but is it true that only good peers matter” (p.2)[emphasis added]? And later, “it turns out that independent of own ability, all students benefit when surrounded by good peers” (p. 3)[emphasis added]. It stands to reason that if there are good peers, there are bad peers. Who are they? One need not answer because centuries of socialization have created images of the bad peers: low-income, non-White, immigrant, low achieving, etc. Lastly, in a recent project with colleagues we had decided to ask our peers to reflect on living in a white supremacist world. Once determined, there was concern about the question being too uncomfortable for Whites and adding to an already tense topic. The question was changed to one that allowed “an out” for people to distance themselves from racial inequality and white supremacy much like the objectifying voice Rosaldo explains. The comfort of Whites was primary over the learning that could have taken place and the trust in our peers to take the step to educate the educator (Lave, 2012).

Returning to my question above, is it possible for researchers using dominant culture tools and logic to achieve a movement of systemic change? McCarty (2005) who calls for the centering of Indigenous epistemologies asks, “what does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples” (p. 1).  When the question is rephrased as, “what does Indigenous self-determination mean for the world?” I will feel well on the way to that systemic change. For now, the question is still additive. I’ll leave the question for the reader to ponder whilst exploring and challenging the constraints of her or his own research practice. I will say, resisting and challenging the white racial frame is exhausting. In the words of rapper, Talib Kweli, some days I do enough “just to get by.”


Barrata, G. (Director). (1994). New York and the mystery of Naples: A journey through Gramsci’s world [Documentary]. Italy: Le Rose e i Quaderni.

Feagin, J. (2013). The white racial frame: Centuries of racial framing and counter-framing (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Lave, J. (2012). Changing practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(2), 156-171.

McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education—Self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1-7.

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should we track or should we mix them? Unpublished manuscript.

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture and truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Scott, M. (2012). Think race & ethnicity. New York, NY: Pearson.


Don’t Believe the Hype: Indigenous Student Learning Styles May Not Conform to the Literature

Roppolo, K. & Crow, C. (2007). Native American education vs. Indian learning: Still battling Pratt after all these years. Studies in American Indian Literatures, 19(1), 3-31.

Written in Blood

I surrender to Roget’s pocket Thesaurus

I confess my crime of breaking into this container of words,

and slaughtering this poem with meta innuendo./

But I needed something. I wanted to gather the dust

of 84 warriors and 62 women & children. I robbed,

from this vault of words, language of the enemy, in hopes/

I could capture these people, allow their prayers to

Reach Wovoka in the final hour before I end this poem.

I wanted to know that I am not merely grieving from the guilt /

of that European blood that separates me from two worlds.

I need to know that I can be allowed my grief.

Sadly, I have failed. This 1961 Cardinal edition thesaurus/

I depended upon has betrayed me. Betrayed my Indian kin.

With this language there are times I feel I’m betraying myself.

In my search for synonyms for murder, I find Cain,/

Assassin, barbarian, gunman, brute

hoodlum, killer, executioner, butcher

savage, Apache, redskin.

(Midge, p. 212)


I am using Tiffany Midge’s poem (Harjo & Bird, 1997) to speak a truth about the relationship between Indigenous peoples and dominant-culture education. The legacy of 300 plus years of “Indian education” has left Indigenous communities fractured and traumatized. Our people are in various stages of quasi-assimilation (because we know it’s impossible for full assimilation as we are racialized as brown, or red as is often referenced), without identity, ashamed, and thankfully, recovering. In much of the literature education is lauded as the key to our future and our very survival (Campbell, 2007; Guillory & Wolverton, 2008; Harjo & Bird, 1997; Roppolo & Crow, 2007). Unfortunately, college degree attainment has not become widespread among Indigenous peoples in the U.S.  despite the various research examining this social problem (Guillory & Wolverton, 2008). This week, I turned to a small pilot study that took place at a tribal college on teaching Native American literature to Indigenous students, for a slightly different approach to Indigenous learning at the college level.

In Native American education vs. Indian learning: Still battling Pratt after all these years, Roppolo and Crow (2007) rely on the research about Indigenous students’ learning styles to construct an intensive week-long Native American literature course for five (mostly Cheyenne and Arapaho) students. The authors used two quantitative assessments—one to assess whether students are auditory or visual leaners and the other to assess if they are individualistic or collectivist. Upon finding that the students in their course did not test as the assessments predicted—visual and collectivist, the authors used their knowledge of Cheyenne and Arapaho culture to create an additional assessment to measure assimilation in hopes of explaining the contradictory results. Following are some questions on the assessment. Answering true to the first four and false on the last question reflect “traditional” responses.

  • If I acquire a beautiful object that I value greatly and someone I respect will appreciate it, I would give it to them as a measure of my respect and gratitude without regret.
  • Life experience is more important than book learning, though both can be beneficial.
  • Sometimes hard things have to be said, but it is important to say them in a good way so that people won’t be offended no matter how bad their own behavior has been.
  • My family’s needs are more important than my own.
  • If I went to somebody’s house after eating a large meal and they offered me food, I would politely say that I was full, but thank you, or find some other way of turning down the offer.

The authors also used qualitative data collected from student assignments and their own observations as participants in the research. They found that the literature on Indigenous education does not always apply and that researchers must be willing to change their methods mid-practice in order to impact learning. As the subtitle suggests, society is still using predetermined notions (current literature) of what Indigenous students are like to create an educational environment for them that may not work.

Theoretical Frameowork and Literature Review

The authors used a constructivist approach as a learning theory, philosophy and application in the classroom. Constructivism is the idea that students have their own cultural wealth they bring into the classroom and rather than ignore that capital, the instructors build upon it so that students can construct new knowledge upon the foundation of previously constructed knowledge which is beneficial for learning. I found the literature review sparse, however the authors used an article that reviewed the recent literature (as of 2003) on improving academic performance among Native American students. They also use literature that examined historical educational practices toward Indigenous peoples, the impact of cultural literacies, cultural variables, and cross-cultural assessment in learning environments and a few specific research studies about Indigenous peoples and education. I think they could have used more research to support their own. I am convinced that that the articles situate the authors’ contribution as innovative, however, I am not convinced that the 12 articles specifically about Indigenous students sets a solid foundation for the author’s contribution. It seems to me there could be a lot more support for their argument.

Data and Analysis

Three quantitative methods: Joyzelle Godfrey’s Assessment of personal tendency toward individualism or collectivism, Brainworks Personal Evaluation to test for audio/video preference, and their own 24-item survey to test for assimilation. The 24-item survey was created midweek to find out why students had tested as auditory learners rather than visual and individualistic rather than collectivist. Interestingly, the students’ scores contradicted the literature that theorized Indigenous students were holistic and visual learners. The authors also used qualitative data, the students journaling and classroom assignments as well as the author’s own observations as participants in the learning environment. The qualitative data offered more insight into how the students connected with the coursework and gave a richer description of how the students’ lived experiences impacted the work they completed in the class. The two quantitative methods that tested preferences for audio/visual and individualistic/collectivist revealed the students to be unlike what the data had shown for Indigenous students—which led to the creation of a new assessment.


The authors theorized that students tested strongly as both visual-auditory because the culture requires it. Engaging in traditional ceremony requires one to complete complex tasks often after very long instructions. One needs auditory focus to be successful. Also, attending ceremonies and watching what others are doing prepares one for the day it is their turn. The authors suggest their contradictory findings on students learning styles makes the case that we should not apply predetermined theory and practice to Indigenous students but must be flexible to change theory mid-practice to ensure real learning happens and that new pedagogies and theories can arise.

The authors’ findings are in line with the complexity of human beings and the idea that people adapt. Being willing to adjust your research methods mid-stream takes reflection, critical thinking and courage. To me, this is what it means to be innovative and to practice excellence. The authors did not accept the contradictions and report those findings, instead they set out to figure out why the students in their research contradicted the literature. In the end, the students’ final projects were a mix of visual representation, spoken, and written word.


Campbell, A. (2007). Retaining American Indian/Alaska Native students in higher education: A case study of one partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(2), 19-42.

Guillory, R.M., Wolverton, M. (2008). It’s about family: Native American student persistence in higher education. The Journal of Higher Education, 79(1), 58-87.

Midge, T. (1997). Written in Blood. In Harjo, J. & Bird, G (Eds.), Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writings of North America (p. 212). New York: Norton.

Roppolo, K. & Crow, C. (2007). Native American education vs. Indian learning: Still battling Pratt after all these years. Studies in American Indian Literatures, 19(1), 3-31.

Fight the Power: De-centering white supremacy in scholarship and research



Source: Author's personal  photo

Source: Author’s personal photo

In my teaching practice I often experience pushback about issues of race similar to Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva in White Logic, White Methods (2008). Most of the pushback I receive, however, comes from students when challenging their beliefs about racial inequalities in America. Most scholars who challenge white supremacy and racial ideologies are often seen as radical or misguided because the idea of race being a social construct and not inherently biological is foreign to most (Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008). Think about it, the very foundation and fabric of American society was built alongside racialization—the process of labeling and attaching meaning to a group otherwise uncategorized (Omi & Winant, 1994), thus, racial hierarchies are taken-for-granted categories that most people experience as the social norm. In reality there are real social consequences when an entire society believes race to be real, so race is real because it is real in its consequences. A major consequence is the valuing and privileging of whiteness above every other racialized group. Since Whites in the U.S. have always held the social, economic and political power, their culture is the norm, the standard by which all other racialized groups are measured (Smith, 1999; Yosso, 2005; Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008). The problem with this norm is that our society cannot meet the ideals of liberty and freedom espoused in the Declaration of Independence when entire groups of people are ascribed to a life of poverty and powerlessness.

Our cohort cannot rise to the guiding question of the class–How might educational action research reflect issues of access, excellence, and impact in your area of inquiry?– if we do not acknowledge and address the themes reflected in this week’s readings—truth, justice, and power. Taken together, the readings ask us to become conscious of the ways society has been structured to privilege those who are in power—or who look like those in power (Smith, 1999; Yosso, 2005; Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008). We are forced to contend with the reality that race is a social construct, a human created idea of placing people into a social hierarchy with privileges and oppressions dealt in relation to one’s position in the hierarchy. Thus, our entire social reality is fabricated to value one group’s knowledge system, values, and culture while dismissing all others (Smith, 1999). The education system we are in at this very moment, this EdD program, is part of the system of power, of white supremacy, and it is here that we must “speak truth to power” (as stated in Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008).

So, how do we speak truth to power to advance social justice? We can start by being aware of and challenging racial ideologies. We must also incorporate into and value non-White ways of knowing and doing in the production of knowledge (Smith, 1999; Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva, 2008). We must center non-White voices and experiences in theory, research and schooling while challenging existing scholarship, theory, knowledge and research Smith, 1999; Yosso, 2005). We must start early by teaching our children, at early ages, how to embrace ambiguity (Jordon & McDaniel, in press) and deal with uncertainty in ways that edify the community and “transform the process of schooling” (Yosso, 2005, p. 70). We have all been socialized into doing and valuing whiteness and the presumed, yet unachievable, objectivity that it entails. We must reeducate ourselves and our communities to achieve inclusivity, equity, and justice. This is my plan as I examine ways to increase degree completion, retention and student success among Indigenous students in postsecondary education.


Jordan, M.E. & McDaniel, R. R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014896254

Omi, M. & Winant (1994). Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge

Smith, L.T. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. New York, NY: University of Otago Press.

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91

Zuberi, T. & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White Logic, White Methods: Racism and methodology. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Indigenous Students Identify Six Factors That Impact Degree Completion


Guillory, R.M., & Wolverton, M. (2008). It’s about family: Native American student persistence in higher education. The Journal of Higher Education, 79(1), 58-87

I went to school in Winslow, Arizona during elementary level and completed junior high and high school in what was then called South Central Los Angeles. My high school education was as substandard as it gets! So much so that I played catch up when I started at the University of Southern California straight out of high school. It wasn’t until my second semester junior year that I figured out how college worked, what resources were available to me, and what I needed to graduate. Much of this transition occurred because I became a student worker in the Liberal Arts and Sciences department and had complete access to academic advisors in my degree program. I also sought work with the local urban Indian social services center where I could work and interact with other Indigenous people and obtain much needed financial and social support. I concur with the Indigenous voices in Guillory and Wolverton’s (2008) research, there are persistence factors that are unique to Indigenous students that ultimately lead to degree completion.


This qualitative study used focus groups and interviews of 30 Native American university students and the collective institutional voices of state representatives, university presidents, and faculty at three institutions on the persistence factors and barriers to retention and degree attainment for Native American students. Both groups, students and institutional voices, were asked the same questions. The findings indicate contrary ideas between the two groups on persistence and barrier factors. Students identified family, giving back to tribal community and on-campus social support as their most important persistence factors. Institutional voices listed adequate financial support and academic programs as persistence factors for Indigenous students. Barriers were incongruent as well, clearly a disconnect between the groups which has negative impact on Indigenous student degree completion.

Theoretical Framework and Lens for Analysis

After discussing the theories other researchers have used to explain Indigenous learner college retention and degree attainment (Tinto’s Theory of Student Departure, Pascarella’s General Model for Assessing Change, Astin’s Theory of Involvement and the Model of Institutional Adaptation to Student Diversity), mostly, mainstream theories applied to Indigenous learners, the authors explain their rationale for using a qualitative multiple case study-like approach to center Indigenous learners’ voices. The author’s quote Tierney (1990) “what we need now are sensitive studies that move beyond statistical surveys…Rather than research about American Indians for policy makers… we need studies by and for Native Americans about their relationship to the world of higher education” (as stated in Guillory & Wolverton, 2008, p. 61).

The authors used focus group interviews that lasted 90 to 100 minutes to capture the student voices. Students were selected by referral from the university Native student centers. The students also completed questionnaires to obtain background information. The students represented 20 Indigenous nations and were mostly juniors, seniors and graduate students. They all hailed from tribal communities or border towns. Nine students identified as first generation, while 12 students had at least one parent who held an AA, bachelor’s or master’s level degree. From the focus group interviews, students were asked to name and explain the most important factors that had helped them persist in the university thus far as well as barriers that Indigenous students must overcome to be successful at the university. The institutional voices among three rural universities were asked the same questions.

The authors used a within-case and cross-case analysis to examine the similarities and differences among the three universities. The results were examined to determine processes and outcomes that were thematic among all three universities. The authors used the Family Education Model (FEM) as a framework to analyze the results. The FEM is a model developed for use among Indigenous social work students that promotes action and intervention to improve Indigenous learner retention and degree attainment.

Strengths and critiques

This study has implications for all colleges and universities that educate Indigenous learners. These findings reinforce what Roppolo and Crow caution us against, using essentialist notions to create Indian education as opposed to assessing Indigenous learners to better meet their educational needs, as evidenced by the incongruences between students and institutional administration and staff. The article is a major contribution to the field of Indigenous student persistence in higher education as it centers the Indigenous student voice in higher education and offers solutions to improve retention and persistence. The qualitative approach allows a richness that cannot be seen from raw data like graduation and stop out rates. The authors suggest conducting more studies with Indigenous students at different colleges and universities, as there is little research that centers the voices of Indigenous university students especially among urban Indigenous students.

Related research and conversations

The findings in this research are consistent with the case study in the Campbell (2007) article I posted last week where a partnership between Pima Community College and the Tohono O’odham Nation addressed the need for students to maintain family and community ties, receive extra tutoring to meet college level work demands and complete financial student and family support.

As an educator at a community college an assessment of Indigenous learners’ needs seems like the first step in my practice. Researchers suggest using the student voices to plan interventions that honor the importance of family and community along with financial support to make institutional changes. Though my college is considered to be located in an urban environment, the Indigenous communities surrounding us have been impacted by the close proximity to the city. I am interested to learn if urban Indigenous students yield the same concerns as students in the rural universities.


Campbell, A. (2007). Retaining American Indian/Alaska Native students in higher education: A case study of one partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(2), 19-42.

Guillory, R.M., & Wolverton, M. (2008). It’s about family: Native American student persistence in higher education. The Journal of Higher Education, 79(1), 58-87.

Tierney, W. G. (1990, May). American Indians and higher education: A research agenda for the 90s. Paper presented at the Opening of the Montana Pipeline: American Indian HIgher Education in the Nineties Conference, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT.

Hip-Hop: One Step Away from Youth Participatory Action Research





I love hip-hop! Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 90s hip-hop was the norm– the culture. Even if you weren’t a B-Boy (beat boy) or B-Girl there were elements of hip-hop youth incorporated into our being. My brother wore squeaky-clean tennis shoes with ironed jeans and ironed t-shirts. For me, hip-hop confirmed my suspicions that something wasn’t right in the world. It also reflected my reality back to me with places, sayings, sights and sounds that I could relate. It affirmed who I was as a brown person in a white-dominated society.

There’s divinity within because we come from the divine,

A force that’s not seen, but you feel it every time:

When the wind blows, and the world turns,

And the rain drops, and the baby cries,

And the bird flies, and the ground quake,

And the stars gleam.

– Q-Tip, “The Remedy,” from Get on the Bus Soundtrack, 1996


I was listening to rap by Q-Tip, Queen Latifa, Heavy D., Salt-N-Pepa, Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan, LL Cool J, Mos Def, Run DMC, and of course 2Pac and Snoop Dogg. Hip-hop was a counterculture movement that gave voice to youth who felt powerless against the system, who wanted to expose the system for what it was- historically and currently oppressive to black and brown peoples. Hip-hop was expression, freedom, it was speaking up and bringing attention to our condition but also cathartic, it was a way to keep from going insane. This was also the War on Drugs era when everybody in the ‘hood had a family member, or two, or three, addicted to crack. The police were the enemy. There were drive-bys and “jackings” (being robbed up close and personal) happening every day in South Central. So hip-hop was our sanctuary, our way to “speak truth to power” (Bautista, Bertrand, Morrell, Scorza & Matthews, 2013, p. 4).

Speaking truth to and about systems of power is what youth participatory action research (YPAR) is about (Bautista et al., 2013). It is a research methodology that puts youth at the center of their own lives through research they conduct about their experiences. As Bautista and his colleagues describe, “…YPAR is many things: a pedagogical practice, a form of resistance, a revising of whose knowledge is valuable, a tool of decolonization, and a radical research methodology” (Bautista et al., 2013, p. 5). Like rap, “…youth in YPAR develop their cultural consciousness” (Bautista et al., 2013, p. 6). Unlike rap, YPAR teaches youth tools to conduct multi-modal research about their communities so that they are armed with data to challenge systems of inequity.

I was able to find a presentation on my Los Angeles high school conducted by a California Council of Youth research group. The research about my high school, Manual Arts, indicated overcrowding, lack of or poor quality educational supplies, unavailability of counselors and teachers for guidance and poor preparation for college. Students identified three demands: money must be invested into course and school supplies, easy access to school counselors, and increased after-school and extracurricular activities (Armstrong, et al., 2010). Change takes time, but it is through youth participatory action research that educational equity can be achieved with the input of all stakeholders.


Armstrong, A., Dominguez, G., Herrera, J., McCoy, M., Torres, R. & McClain, R. (2010).  They have learned to live it down as though they did not care [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from

Bautista, M.A., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., D’Artangnan, S. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 1-23


Finally, Equitable Education for Indigenous Students: Creating a Successful Cohort

Campbell, A. (2007). Retaining American Indian/Alaska Native students in higher education: A case study of one partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(2), 19-42.


In Retaining American Indian/Alaska Native students in higher education: A case study of one partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Campbell (2007) describes a successful nursing partnership program between the Tohono O’odham Nation (Nation) and Pima Community College (PCC) in her case study. What is exciting about this article is that the Nation saw a need to educate members of the Tohono O’odham community to take on nursing and care positions for the elder care facility that was being built and reached out to the local community college to assist in this endeavor. The Nation wanted to train its members to work in the facility caring for their elders in a way that outsiders could not—speaking the language, sharing the culture, and being productive citizens of the community. The case study outlines the process in which the partnership developed with the development of culturally responsive curriculum and support that led to success for the students in the program. The study is clear on identifying the factors that led to student withdrawal and student persistence. Faculty, administrators, and the Nation addressed several factors to ensure students had the tools to succeed in the nursing cohort. The partnership suggests that Indigenous students will succeed when they are completely supported as students and community members by college administration, faculty and their Nation as they pursue their education.

Contribution to field

Initially, I was unclear about the research method; however, when I reviewed the title a third time I realized the article was a case study. The article was organized in such a way as to walk the reader through the process of setting up a partnership program for students. This is valuable in that it reads like a “how to” manual for program development. I have not read an article that showed the step-by-step process for setting up a program for postsecondary Indigenous students in such detail. The treat was that the program was a partnership between an Arizona Indigenous nation and a local community college, which is my interest area. I am surprised that there are not more programs like this one. The article demonstrates the program was successful and illustrated the lengths the college and Nation went to ensure student success. I was disappointed that the article did not indicate whether there were other partnerships of this type in existence. I am left to assume that this is the first of its kind.

Literature Review

The author includes research on drop out rates of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), education statistics of AI/AN compared with racial groups, and factors that lead to staying or leaving school. The contribution was situated in a context of institutionalized racism and lack of cultural competency on the part of predominantly white institutions and educators. I would have liked to see included in the article similar programs as the Tohono O’odham/PCC partnership or a statement that there is nothing like this particular program to date.

Theoretical Framework

The author uses a functional-collaborative lens to situate the development and success of the health/nursing cohort program. She described how the Nation, the college administration, the faculty, and students all worked together to apply their knowledge and expertise to make the program a true partnership. Each group was involved in the planning, design, and implementation of the cohort and each contributed much needed resources whether in the form of staff, finances, or feedback on the cultural relevance or irrelevance of curricula. The functional-collaborative model is a community-based approach that values and utilizes the input of students, teachers and the community.

Data Collection

There was no data collection section included in the article. The author, who holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, described a process of program development. The author does not share how she obtained the information to write this case study.


The program was detailed enough to duplicate if one wanted to start a culturally responsive partnership program. Again, this study was more descriptive than analytical.

Implications for equitable education

The partnership between the Tohono O’odham nation and PCC can be duplicated across the nation if stakeholders are willing to provide monetary support, creativity and flexibility in program development and student support. This program requires commitment in ways that are not traditional for colleges and universities. Providing housing for families in another city, changing textbooks mid-semester, providing study space in the students’ community, hiring a liaison to facilitate paperwork and be the voice of students as well as paying full tuition, books and living stipends. Many might think this excessive, however, we attend classes and live on the homeland of the Akimel O’otham people, and culturally responsive curriculum and tuition is minute compared to appropriated land and assault on spirit and identity that Indigenous peoples have endured.

New Ideas

This study relates to the way I envision my practice- working with stockholders to create programs that meet the holistic needs of Indigenous students. I envision programs where Indigenous students are nurtured from elementary school through college wherein they develop the skills necessary to succeed in both their home communities and dominant culture. Campbell’s case study offers an example of how I might create programs to impact the success of Indigenous students in college. Though this article is about a partnership between a Nation and the nursing department, I envision programs based on the needs of local nations and the career choices of students. Placing students in cohorts to develop foundational knowledge as scaffolding to succeed in college is viable if all stakeholders are committed.


Campbell, A. (2007). Retaining American Indian/Alaska Native students in higher education: A case study of one partnership between the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ. Journal of American Indian Education, 46(2), 19-42.

Race Matters in Education Even in 2014


“The hierarchies rarely endure for more than a few generations, but the arguments, refurbished for the next round of social institutions, cycle endlessly.” (Gould, 1981, p. 30)


Recently, my nephew’s 8th grade Honors English class was given the assignment to read O. Henry’s, The Ransom of Red Chief, then conduct an analysis of humor in the short story. I had glanced at the title of the article earlier but was busy doing something else that the title did not register, until my nephew started looking up words with a surprised expression on his face. I asked him to tell me the word but he said he couldn’t say it. I asked him to spell it and he said he would rather not. Curious, I looked at the page and to my shock and surprise the word was “niggerhead.” Even I had to look up the word but I think we can all guess that the word has something to do with a black person’s head. I immediately flipped to the first page and re-read the title, The Ransom of Red Chief, “Red Chief!” How could I have missed these words! I then took over the story, told him he would not be completing this assignment and proceeded to read the story in its entirety. The Ransom of Red Chief was written in the early 20th century and it’s supposed to be about the humor surrounding two men who kidnap a young boy from a mining town only to be terrorized by the boy as he plays being a “pesky redskin.” The boy, who is white, attempts to scald, scalp and hang one man in particular until both men are fed up and pay the father to take the boy off their hands.

These are some of the stereotypical and offensive phrases in the story: “Red Chief, the terror of the plains,” “to be scalped at daybreak (said by the child playing “Indian),” “[B]raves returned from the warpath,” “pesky redskin,” “simply indecent, terrifying, humiliating screams, such as women emit when they see ghosts or caterpillars” and “niggerhead.” The term niggerhead refers to something that looks like a Black person’s head and it also means lazy, a common racist stereotype used for Black people when we all know that the economy of the South could not have been built by lazy African slaves.

On the one had I felt shocked that this was an 8th grade reading assignment on the other hand I knew this was the norm in our society. So I wrote my nephew’s teacher and explained how the story was an assault on Indigenous children’s identity and offered detailed explanations of how the story reinforced racist and sexist stereotypes. This story is an example of the pervasiveness of the ideas about race that scientists from the nineteenth century established. Sociobiologist, Stephen Jay Gould (1981) said it best in the quote above, the arguments and ideas about race “cycle endlessly” (p. 30).

In Mismeasure of Man, Gould (1981) details how scientists used their position of “objectivity” to justify the social ranking of diverse peoples. Basically, scientists of the nineteenth century put forth ideas about racial difference that justified white domination and the subordination of all others. The ideas of nineteenth century scientists have become entrenched in our minds and our society as American citizens. Ideas, mainly racist ones, about diverse people are the bedrock of this nation.

Though various hierarchical systems no longer exist (e.g. slavery, Jim Crow, etc.), ideologies, or justifications for oppression, are still widely used and applied to maintain the white supremacist society in which we live. In an article advocating for culturally relevant teaching practices, Howard (2003) writes, “race has always and continues to matter in an increasingly racially diverse society” (p. 197). He talks about our diverse society, yet our values especially with regard to cultural capital are based upon white standards and norms. Howard (2003) posits that educators must incorporate the cultural capital (diverse languages, beliefs, practices, etc.) that diverse students acquire from their given social structure into the teaching and learning environment to practice culturally relevant teaching. In practicing culturally relevant teaching, we can create equitable educational environments. Garcia and Ortiz (2013) recommend, “document[ing] the knowledge and skills children acquire in home and community contexts and then develop ways to incorporate the information into curriculum and instruction” (p.40).

These practices are crucial if we are to ever to make changes in society, in our social institutions and in how we interact with one another. We need only look at national statistics to see that educational attainment; health, wealth and even how long one will live fall along racial lines. Black and Native Americans are almost always at the bottom of any social measurements. As a Black and Navajo woman, Gould’s (1981) chapter, American Polygeny and Craniometry Before Darwin: Blacks and Indians as Separate Inferior Species, was especially relevant to me. I have noticed how even today, people in society still have distaste for Blackness. Few would admit to it but like Morton, “expectation is a powerful guide to action” (Gould, 1981, p. 65). Sometimes, people are unaware of perpetuating racist stereotypes like in the case of my nephew’s teacher. I urged her to reconsider the assignment. Surprisingly, she was receptive to my instruction and is now revising 8th grade Honors English curriculum to be culturally inclusive.


Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a frameowrk for transformative research in special education . Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Gould, S.J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Henry, O. (1907). The Ransom of Red Chief. The Saturday Evening Post. Retrieved from

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection,      42(3), 195-202.

Niggerhead. (n.d.). In Wordnik. Retrieved from