Alternative Education for American Indian Students

Jeffries, R. B. & Singer, L.C.  (2003).  Successfully educating urban American Indian students:  An alternative school format.  Journal of American Indian Education, 42(3), p. 40 – 57.


In Rhonda B. Jeffries and Lyndon C. Singer’s (2003) article, “Successfully Educating Urban American Indian Students:  An Alternative School Format, the researchers explore the benefits of an alternative school that serves a significant population of American Indian students.  Black Raven High School “was created in 1994 by concerned American Indian professionals, parents and affiliated entities in response to the high academic failure and dropout rate of American Indian high school students in the public school system” (p. 45).

Black Raven High School employed 10 teachers:  3 American Indian, 2 African American and 6 Anglos.  Both the principal and assistant principal were American Indian.  And, the majority of support staff, tutors and volunteers were also American Indian.  The majority of the 9th – 12th grade students between the ages of 14 – 18 identified as American Indian.  The American Indian students that enrolled had either already dropped out or were at risk of dropping out.  Referrals for student enrollment came from other schools and the students’ families.  Student enrollment was limited to 80 students, however, about 70 students would show up on any given day.  Class sizes did not exceed 15 students, with the average being 7-8 students.  Black Raven’s developed a philosophy of values that promoted “a sense of community, self-esteem, ethnic identity and pride, and an appreciation of all cultures and their relevance in today’s society” (p. 46).

Data were collected through observations and “life history interviews with students, teachers, the administrative assistant, and the principal” (p. 46).   The data for this study included perspectives from 1 administrator and 3 students.  The case study was centered around one educator “whose use of culturally relevant curricula has made a significant impact on a randomly selected sample of American Indian students’ lives” (p. 46).  Data were analyzed through the creation of verbatim transcripts, coding the transcripts to develop thematic frameworks using the constant comparative method, and then recoded for confirm the themes initially established.

The data revealed “significant factors contributing toward American Indian/Alaska Native student success” were “(a) small school size, (b) flexible school formats, (c) governance structures, and (d) culturally responsive teachers” (p. 52).  When school size and flexible schedules uncontrollable, the study found that culturally responsive teachers were enough to “create conducive environments” (p. 52).


I appreciated the researchers desire to examine non-traditional education as it pertains to the education of American Indian students.  Much of the research that I have discovered has been focused on traditional educational systems such as public schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools.  I think too often researchers are focused on the traditional educational systems’ lack of equity and quality that they are unaware of the assets that do exist within the system.

However, I would like to know if the researchers considered examining a rural alternative school.  I would be interested to know if they were able to come up with similar findings.  And, if not, what were the reasons for the differences.

I would also like to know the impact this school made in regards to the initial concerns of academic failure and dropout rates.  Did the school create an increase in academic achievement and retention to graduation?

My other concern was the small number of participants in this study.  Only 1 administrator, 1 teacher and 3 students were included in the case study.  I would have liked to read the perspectives of the other administrator, the other 9 teachers, and the other 77 students that made up the school body.  Again, I am left to wonder if the researcher limited her data to these 5 individuals because it proved what she wanted to prove.

I would also have liked the data collection to include interviews and perspectives from graduates.  How did this school change their lives and lead them to graduation, which they may not have accomplished otherwise?

I would also have liked to see the statistics over the course of its existence that included student enrollment numbers, pre- and post-test scores, and attendance, dropout and graduation rates.  I understand that students enjoy the non-traditional approach, but did it have an effect on the data?  If not, then what is the point?  If so, what other interventions did the school provide for the students to achieve this?


As I read this article, I found myself writing in the margins “I need to do this” or “how can I do this?”  I am always looking for ways to improve our program.  And, hopefully, this year, with a new staff coming in, we will be able make significant changes.  However, I know the scope to which we can make these changes will be limited by administration.  But, I will fight for them anyway.

Because I work in an alternative school on the reservation, I was interested in what the study would find.  However, these are all things that I think would benefit any student both Natives and non-Natives.  Culturally relevant teaching should not only pertain to American Indian culture.  It did give me some ideas as to how we may be able to incorporate non-traditional activities into our curriculum.  How I am going to this, I am not sure exactly considering I have 7th – 12th grade students in my classroom at the same time and each is working on coursework specific to them.  I am interested in the new perspectives that will be coming in that may be able to assist in this process.

I especially appreciated this point that Jeffries and Singer addressed “we must remember that American Indians/Alaskan Natives represent over 200 distinct cultures.  What works beautifully on the Navajo Reservation falls flat on the Rosebud Reservation and may be inapplicable in an urban setting representing 60 different cultures” (p. 54).  It is critical that researcher and educators keep this in mind.  I do not like the generalizations that literature often makes about Native Americans.  And, this is precisely why I am only interested in focusing on my tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation.  It is the community in which I live and my family is from.  It is the community in which my children will attend school.

Losing Language

Chapter 5 in Humanizing Research, “Activist Ethnography With Indigenous Youth:  Lessons From Humanizing Research on Language and Education” by Teresa L. McCarty, Leisy T. Wyman and Sheilah Nicholas, resonated with me.  Indigenous languages are quickly fading.  I see it every day in our youth.  Not all youth have the desire like Jonathan and Justin to learn their Native languages.  Their identity is reflected through their knowledge of their history and their language.  I have had a Jonathan and a Justin, but they are few and far between.

I have talked extensively with my students about learning the culture and the language.  All of them are proud to be Tohono O’odham.  But, very few participate in traditional activities.  They have all taken culture classes in elementary, middle and high school.  In fact, Tohono O’odham History and Native American Studies are required courses for graduation.  In addition, the high school offers Tohono O’odham language classes.  However, the access to these courses is limited in all grade levels.  I think a large part of this is due to the small number of culture and language teachers that we have in the district.  At the very same time, I wonder if we would have more teachers if the district wanted more teachers.  But, that’s a whole other story.

In 2012, the State Board of Education adopted the Native American Language Certification Policy R7-2-614J, which was developed by the Arizona Department of Education and Arizona’s tribal nations (  This policy allows for traditional language speakers to obtain teaching certification through a non-traditional route.  Tribal nations are responsible for developing their own assessments for measuring proficiency.  And, with a passing score on the assessment, a fingerprint clearance card and an application fee, Native speakers are eligible for the Native Language Teacher Certificate (

I know that some of the culture teachers that we have had have utilized this alternative teaching certification.  I believe that this has been extremely beneficial to our district, and, more importantly, our students.  Like McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas (2014) learned from their studies, students are disengaging in their Native languages at a rapid rate and very few are committed to learning their language.  I have experienced this with the youth that I work with.  While many know some vocabulary, stringing together sentences seems like a task not worth attempting.

For the last 3 years, I have had a young woman, now 18, who knows O’odham relatively well and is interested in learning the language.  But, it is something that she keeps very close to herself.  She will not speak it in front of her peers.  When I ask if anyone knows how to say such and such in O’odham, I will glance at her.  If her classmates are around, she will just shrug and say that she does not know like many of my students.  In private, she will tell me what I asked for earlier.  I have asked her several times about this and she said that she does not want to get made fun of for speaking the language.  I have even encouraged her to take the language courses offered, but she refuses because she knows she will have to speak it in front of other students.  She said that she only speaks it at home with her grandpa, which seems to be the trend across Native cultures, according to McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas (2014).

How can we change this?  I honestly have no idea.  I wish I knew.  I wish our youth would see the value in learning our language and culture.  But, I also understand their perspective.  Who else values their language besides other O’odham?  Facebook is not in O’odham.  Television programs and movies are not in O’odham.  Google does not translate English to O’odham.  And, their education is not offered in O’odham.  I know parents/guardians who do not know O’odham either, therefore, they are unable teach their children.  So, whose responsibility is it to teach our youth their language before it disappears forever?

McCarty, T. L., Wyman, L. T., & S. Nicholas (2014).  Activist ethnography with Indigenous youth:  Lessons from humanizing research on language and education.  In D. Paris & M. T. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research:  Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp. 81-103).  Los Angeles, CA:  Sage Publications, Inc.

Silva, L.  (2012, Aug. 28).  Native American language teacher certification.  Retrieved from

Do Only “Good” Peers Matter?

In this article, Pivovarova (2013) discussed and evaluated the school tracking system. Tracks are classrooms or programs targeted toward homogenous groups. As an economist, her perspective is interesting in that she is considered the financial cost of the trade off between providing an educational experience that is equal or efficient. Pivovarova (2013) states “school tracking is defined as ability grouping with or without design of the specific curriculum for different ability groups. The opponents of tracking argue that channeling students into different tracks increases the inequality of opportunity and aggravates future economic inequality. Proponents of tracking usually cite the increased efficiency when students are grouped by abilities in schools or classes” (pg. 4).

The article includes a thorough literature review and presentation of current models. I found it interesting that a mathematical formula was used to evaluate the data and try to assess the influence of students’ academic performance on one another. The Linear-in-means model of classroom interaction seems to be the common model used to assess peer learning. Pivovarova (2013) was analyzing data available through existing educational assessments and applying this model to determine the model’s applicability.   In the literature review, Pivovarova (2013) shared multiple research views and stated, “the overall consensus in recent literature on peer effects in education is clear – the data do not support the simple linear-in-means model. The evidence suggests that the structure and nature of peer effects in elementary and middle school are more complicated than the standard linear-in-means model implies” (pg. 7).

The researcher was questioning how peers in classrooms affect classroom learning and how do the students in the classroom complement and influence the learning environment. I had always thought of success in school being a function of ability and attitude. I have certainly always loved learning. However, my experience included tracks. I was tracked in gifted programs and had some fantastic educational experiences. I have always wondered what my other classmates did when we all left the room to participate in “gifted” activities. This was my peer, my community. The cost of delivering this type of unique experience for gifted students was the additional instructor and the expenses of the additional programming. When considering the cost of that, the school systems need to consider the cost of delivering a program that is targeting only one group. This would not be inline with an approach trying to provide a high quality experience to all students. There is a cost, according to Pivovarova’s (2013) findings. The costs are financial and beyond in the sense that students who are low achievers might not be receiving the best education if grouped in a certain way. Ultimately, the findings were that high achieving students added to the environment advanced the group even further.

I work with a group of high achieving students. I define them that way based upon a couple of measures. The first is the College Index (CI) score. This is a measure that is determined based upon a variety of typical high school related measures (SAT score, ACT score, class ranking, GPA). The average CI score of the students I work with is 126. The highest possible score is 144. (Interestingly, there are specific programs at ASU for students who have a score less than 100 and those who score at a high level are invited to other specific programs). The other measure I use to qualify my evaluation of the students is that our major has the most students than any other major in the Barrett Honors College (BHC). We have two groups of students in the major, those in BHC and those not in BHC. Pivovarova (2013) found that high ability students do well when grouped with other high ability students. However, the impact of lower ability students was not as clear.

As I read the article, I reflected on the students in this major and what the experience must be like as a “lower” achieving student. I’m not even certain how I would define that, except that I do perceive an imbalance between the two groups based on how they refer to one another. It definitely made me reflect on the programming we deliver and how we frame advising conversations with students.


Pivovarova, M. (2013). Should we track them or should we mix them? Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University.



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.

Analysis of an Ethnocentric Charter School on an American Indian Reservation

Fenimore-Smith, J. K. (2009). The Power of Place: Creating an Indigenous Charter School. Journal of American Indian Education, 48(2), 1–17.

Charter schools have often been endorsed as an alternative to the public school system, as it allows for more freedom in curriculum and instruction while still adhering to state standards.  Specifically ethnocentric charter schools have been employed to address the complex and unique needs and challenges surrounding the educational struggles of marginalized and colonized indigenous populations.  The objective of ethnocentric charter schools is to integrate traditional indigenous linguistic and cultural ways of knowing into the Western educational platform.

In the article “The Power of Place: Creating an Indigenous Chart School,” Kay Fenimore-Smith (2009) outlines her study of an ethnocentric indigenous charter school on an undisclosed reservation in northwest United States.  The article outlines a two-year study to identify and examine the challenges and successes of Eagle High School (pseudonym) during the school’s first two years of operation.  The purpose of the study “was to provide a historical record which could serve as a basis for evaluation of the school as well as documentation and analysis of policies and practices of a fledging Indigenous charter school” (p. 2).

Fenimore-Smith (2009) builds upon other related studies that explore the complexities of the development and implementation of linguistically and culturally integrated curricula in American Indian schools.  The research and initial year of operation of the school began in the summer of 2004.  Although Fenimore-Smith (2009) was unable to consistently visit the school during its first year, she did attend school board meetings and school functions, interviewed staff, and conducted multiple classroom observations.  During her sabbatical for the 2005 fall semester, she regularly volunteered at the school to maintain daily contact with the students and staff.  For the remainder of the school year, Fenimore-Smith (2009) occasionally met with school staff and attended in-serve sessions in addition to other school functions.

The research was conducted through a variety of ethnographic methodologies, such as field-notes on interviews, meetings, and observations.   Other strategies included taping daily journal entries, and collecting school-related artifacts, such as student/parent and staff handbooks, classroom handouts, and school schedules.  Fenimore-Smith (2009) employed the triangulation model of reviewing the data by comparing the information garnered through the taped notes to the interviews and artifacts.  Additionally, the initial analysis of the data was reviewed by the school administrator and student who transcribed the interviews.  As the data revealed several themes, Cummins (1992) theory of cultural differences was implemented as the framework and lens from which the findings were dissected and analyzed. The theory outlines four elements that affect minority student access to education: incorporation of students’ language and culture; community participation in school; instruction; testing.  As Cummins (1992) theoretical framework is based on educational access, Fenimore-Smith (2009) contends that the study’s findings are grounded in practical application.

The findings of the research are significant of the systemic challenges faced by Eagle High School.  Eagle High School’s mission statement of “[Eagle High School] is dedicated to recognizing an individual’s worth and dignity and mutual respect between all people. [It] will provide a new educational environment and unique curriculum to bridge educational, cultural, economic and social gaps” (p. 5).  Although Eagle High School consistently attempted to strive toward the goals outlined in the mission statement, it ultimately was largely unsuccessful due to unforeseen challenges. The findings highlighted that the school did not adequately train teachers to integrate Native language and culture and the language and culture classes were not integrated into curricula.  Furthermore, some students were resistant to participate in traditional cultural activities and language and, as the focus of the curricula shifted, the students requested structured, more Western activities.  Lastly, there was no community and parental involvement, and 79% of the students failed the state standardized assessment.  However, the study did reveal that students felt valued by the teachers and, while the community and parents were not actively involved in the school, they expressed appreciation of the school and its mission.

While the findings are very compelling, there are research methodologies and a claim within this study that should be further addressed.  If there are no transparent or valid research methodologies, the study cannot be duplicated as a means of testing for reliability.  Unfortunately, this opaque approach muddles the validity of the findings, no matter how compelling they appear.

The first element is the fact that Fenimore-Smith (2009) admits to have had limited access to the school throughout the first year of her research.  However, she does not address how limited the access was nor in what capacity.  She also does not discuss if this affected her research methodologies and findings, or if she compensated for the lack of access through the implementation of another approach.

The second element is that there are no explanations of how she completed or how often she conducted her research within the two years of her study.  Other significant and absent research facts are the protocols for the interviews, who the participants were, how the participants were selected, and what demographics the participants represented.  Moreover, she never indicated the objective(s) of the classroom observations or how the observations were equated into findings.

The third element is the vagueness of the school and location.  Employing a pseudonym for the charter high school as well as excluding the name of the reservation serves no real purpose.  However, it does perpetuate the ideology that all indigenous communities are culturally and linguistically identical and, therefore, these facets do not contribute to the unique challenges encountered on each reservation.

The fourth element is the employment of a student-participant to analyze the findings. It is not an objective practice to have the student who transcribes the interviews also interpret the data to provide a Native perspective, particularly if the student may know the interviewees.  This knowledge may alter his/her answers due to inherent biases against the interviewees. Furthermore, there is no indication if the student was a participant in the research or served in other capacities as well, such as also being an interviewee.

The last element is that while Fenimore-Smith (2009) claims that she built her research on other similar studies, there are no explicit mention of any other studies’ findings or how they were conducted.  This statement begs the question of to which studies was she referencing and how did they correlate to her research methodologies and findings.  Explicitly comparing and contrasting research methodologies and findings would have also been another way of ensuring the reliability of the findings, especially if they contribute to the research framework of indigenous educational challenges encountered on reservations.

It is very important, however, to acknowledge that throughout the research process, Fenimore-Smith (2009) addresses her intersectionality and positionality as an outsider to both the indigenous community and the school in which she conducted her research.  She also recognizes that her relationship with the students and staff may have been influenced by their perception of her as a teacher and colleague, therefore altering the data rendered from the ethnographic methodologies.  Fenimore-Smith (2009) notes that she is “fully aware that my interpretation of events may indeed affect ‘the interests and lives of the people represented,’ and it is with this knowledge that I present my findings and as understandings, not explanations” (p. 5). The acknowledgement of her positionality and intersectionality reveal layers that may otherwise be undetectable, inherent biases present throughout the findings.

While teaching in a public school within the heart of the Navajo Nation, I also encountered some similar challenges.  The issue that resonated most with my experiences was that of parental and community involvement.  I had approximately 90-95 students in my 6th grade writing class, but for parent-teacher conferences or “report card parties,” only about 15-20 parents would attend the events. The main issues that prohibited the majority of my students’ families from attending were fiscally embedded.  For example, many of the parents would not attend school events because they did not have enough money to pay for gas, they only had enough gas to go to the grocery store, or they did not have any gas in their vehicle tanks.

Furthermore, many parents were disengaged from their students’ academics due to a myriad of other obstacles.  However, the commonality demonstrated by all the parents was that of multigenerational trauma stemming from the impact of colonization, particularly the boarding school era.  Many parents and community members did not feel comfortable meeting in a school setting due to systemic cultural abuse that was perpetrated by the education system.  Therefore, following the theory of multigenerational trauma, the trauma experienced by the grandparents and parents of my students at the hands of educators in Western schools was instilled in the younger generations.  Thus, not only does this explain some of the lack of parental involvement, but it can also be attributed to the resulting lack of American Indian academic achievement.

Research that explores the complexities of parental and community involvement would be beneficial for American Indian students.  I am particularly interested in learning of any reservation schools that have implemented Epstein’s (2002) triangular partnership model that outlines six types of involvement (Olivos, Jimenez-Castellanos, & Ochoa, 2011). As the model should be tailored to better address the needs of the specific communities in which it is implemented, it would be fascinating to see how it has been adapted throughout various reservations.  As parental and community involvement increase student academic achievement, it is imperative to study different approaches to reach particularly traditionally marginalized and colonized populations.

Olivos, E.M., Jimenez-Castellanos, O., & Ochoa, A. M., (2011). Bicultural Parent Engagement: Advocacy and Empowerment. New York: Teachers College Press.

An Analysis of a Comparative Study of Taiwanese Aboriginal and American Indian Identities’ Impact on Educational Issues

Cheng, S. Y., & Jacob, W. J. (2008). American Indian and Taiwan Aboriginal Education: Indigenous Identity and Career Aspirations. Asia Pacific Education Review, 9(3), 233–247. doi:10.1007/BF03026713

When approaching an issue or challenge, it is of utmost importance that all perspectives be considered.  One such powerful perspective that may be rendered is through critically comparing and contrasting two seemingly similar groups or ideas.  The results highlight insightful binaries of similarities/dissimilarities and causes/effects.

This methodology of critically and qualitatively comparing two traditionally colonized and marginalized groups is especially beneficial in educational action research. The insights garnered through analysis of two groups can tease out commonalities and differences, but also an understanding of how and why.  One such study was conducted by Cheng and Jacob (2008) in their article American Indian and Taiwan Aboriginal Education: Indigenous Identity and Career Aspirations.

In the qualitative study performed by Cheng and Jacob (2008), standard comparative case study analysis was implemented to dissect the similarities and differences between a high school in Taipei, Taiwan, and a high school in Los Angeles, California in the United States.  The procedure of this case study was segmented into three stages: design stage, conducting stage, and analysis stage.  In the first stage, the researchers identified the research as an exploratory case study.  In this stage, twelve Taiwanese Aboriginal and American Indian students were selected.  The selected students were stratified by ethnicity, grade, and gender.  In the second stage, the researchers devised a survey comprised of identity, education experience, and career aspirations and conducted participant observations and in-depth interviews.  Most of the interviews lasted from 20-30 minutes, but a few talked for an hour about the topics covered in the survey.  During each interview, the researchers wrote field notes as well as recorded the interviews with a digital recorder.  Upon the completion of the interview, the interviews were transcribed and coded for cross analysis.  The third and final stage was the analysis of the data collected from both high schools (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

It is important to note that Cheng and Jacob (2008) integrated standpoint theory into their development and analysis of the research. Standpoint theory is borrowed from gender studies, a budding investigative field that highlights sociocultural and political systems of biases, oppression, and power. Standpoint theory calls the researchers to account for any bias they may possess throughout the research process that may influence the outcome of the study.

The qualitative comparative study revealed that there are many similar identity and educational issues surrounding Taiwanese Aboriginals and American Indians.  They both are disassociated with their identities due to sociocultural and political oppression and marginalization.  Most of the oppression and marginalization, in both cases, stems from a lack of exposure, engagement, and support in traditional language, cultural practices, and communities. Both groups experience educational challenges in the form of academic achievement that is associated with the disassociated identities.  However, the differences in how these results are rendered are highlighted.

The Taiwanese Aboriginals experience much stronger and blatant oppression than the American Indians.  The Taiwanese Aboriginal student participants reported that teachers and students consistently perpetuate ethnic stereotypes in school through their comments and trivialization of alcoholism and drug abuse. Although the government mandates traditional languages be offered weekly, it is the last language of four that the students are required to learn.  The students also do not want to learn or engage in traditional activities because there are few in the cities. These issues have resulted in academic underachievement (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

The American Indian student participants reported that they do not experience much racism or stereotyping due to Los Angeles being so diverse and multicultural.  They also stated that in school, they do not receive indigenous education or language courses, but they do not feel discriminated against.  However, they lamented that teachers were not knowledgeable about indigenous cultural practices and beliefs and did not integrate them into classroom lessons.  The students were able to engage in some traditional cultural practices such as powwows, even though they do not regularly visit their tribal communities on reservations.  The language loss is also the result of the students being raised by non-American Indian parents or, if their parents are American Indians, the parents not knowing the traditional languages.  These challenges have resulted in academic underachievement and high dropout rates (Cheng & Jacob, 2008).

Although I have no personal or work experience with Taiwanese Aboriginals, I have lived and worked in the heart of the Navajo Nation for three years.  The results that were rendered in the study were exactly those that I had encountered on the reservation, with the exception of children being raised by non-American Indians.

I ventured out into the Navajo Nation as an undergraduate student-teacher from Indiana University.  It was through the Cultural Immersions Program that I was required to research, learn, and engage in meaningful discussions of Navajo culture and educational issues for an entire year before moving to the reservation.  Once on the reservation, I was overwhelmed but my conceptual knowledge of Navajo culture helped me connect and, through the generosity of those in the community, transform my knowledge into practice.  I was considered a staple in the community after just one year of teaching as the school district in which I taught always experienced high teacher turn-over.  When I asked the teachers why they were leaving, they always cited that they did not understand the students, the environment was too rural, or they did not feel welcomed.  I extended a few invitations to traditional cultural ceremonies and activities, whenever it was respectful to do so, to a few non-American Indian teachers only to be denied most of the time.

I was active in the community, tried to learn the language, and was very respectful of cultural beliefs and practices.  I not only saw these as opportunities to improve myself through broadening my worldview, but also as a means of helping my students connect to the material I was required to teach them. I often pushed myself with the question, “How can teachers make classroom lessons relevant to students’ cultures and lifestyles if they do not engage in them themselves?”  I was surprised when the school district wanted to highlight me as one of the few teachers who integrated cultural and lifestyle aspects into my classroom lessons.  What further surprised me was that I was the only non-American Indian who was trying to make my lessons culturally relevant for my students.  So, when reading the results of the study, I was not confounded when the American Indian students stated that their teachers were not knowledgeable or incorporating cultural relevancy into their classrooms.

Therefore, the question that is raised from the research results rendered is, “How does localized indigenous cultural teacher training impact academic achievement and teacher retention rates in American Indian communities?” Research concentrating on localized indigenous teacher training is relevant in the educational issues surrounding American Indian high school and higher education graduation rates.  If education is made more accessible through culture and relevancy, then the assumed result would be an increase of academic achievement.  Also, if the students are more responsive to classroom lessons, teachers would be less frustrated and over-whelmed, and be more likely to stay in the community.  Retaining teachers is crucial to the long-term academic success of American Indian students because it reinforces the much needed academic and personal support of students.  This research idea is just one more perspective and analysis that must be explored.  Thus, multiple means and perspectives of critically analyzing the cultural identities and educational issues surrounding indigenous peoples is pivotal to their academic success and ultimate self-determination.

Creating Culturally Relevant Communities of Practice

I have to say…I love Etienne Wenger’s (2000) article, “Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems.”  Why?, you ask.  Because I have realized how broken our communities of practice are in my community…not only with the administration, teachers and other staff, but with our students and community members as well.

When I think about the various communities of practice that are visibly present, I come up with two very distinct ones, the tribal members (insiders) and the non-tribal members (outsiders).  I navigate between the two communities of practice on a regular basis.   As Wenger (2000) would call me, I am a “roamer” who has the ability to make connections with members of other communities of practice and bring to them the knowledge from other communities.  I can relate to the outsiders because I’m an urban Indian, meaning I grew up in the city.  And, I can relate to the insiders as I am a tribal member.  Wenger (2000) talks extensively about the boundaries that communities of practice create that are both positive and negative.  In this case, oftentimes, the boundaries established by the insiders create a great disconnect between itself and others.  More often than not, the outsiders’ personal experiences and their competence about Native American culture, in my case Tohono O’odham culture, is so disconnected that fostering learning can be very difficult.  The boundaries are not meant to spotlight what you do not know, but the very idea of communities of practice require it (Wenger, 2000).

Is it possible to create a community of practice that involves both the insiders and outsiders?  I am pretty sure we could.  Of course, both the insiders and outsiders would have to connect enterprise, mutuality and repertoire with engagement, imagination and alignment (Wenger, 2000).  This not only applies to the outsiders learning about the culture that they serve (the insider’s culture), but it will require the insiders to understand the different cultures the outsiders bring to the Nation.  I, unfortunately, have only been looking at this from an insider perspective…the outsiders must learn about our students and our community.  I really did not see a value in it being the other way around.  And, now that I have, I am intrigued by the idea of creating a community of practice that involves both sides who truly have an interest in becoming one cohesive group that all have the same goal in mind…providing the best education possible.

These very boundaries and the ability to access an educational community of practice may very well be as the cause of lack of parental support.  Education itself has its own set of boundaries.  Gregory Cajete’s chapter titled, “Seven Orientations for the Development of Indigenous Science Education” in Denzin, Lincoln and Smith’s (2008) book, Handbook of Critical Indigenous Methodologies, Cajete wrote “the sustained effort to ‘educate’ and assimilate American Indians as a way of dealing with the ‘Indian problem’ inevitably played a key role in how American Indians have historically responded to American ‘schooling.'”  He later writes, “early missionary and government teachers naively assumed that American Indians had no education at all and that their mission was to remedy this ‘great ignorance'” (Cajete, 2008).

Unfortunately, the assimilation process that many of our elders experienced in boarding schools has created a great dislike for the education system.  The way the American schools operated were very different than the way Native American’s education system operated.  Native Americans education was “characterized by observation, participation, assimilation, and experiential learning rather than by the low-context, formal instruction characteristic of Euro-American schooling” (Cajete, 2008).  Thus, many of our parents and grandparents (who may be legal guardians) do not care to participate in the communities of practice within the educational system.  They have no vested interest because of the disconnect between their personal experiences and competence in the modern educational system.

By possibly creating new communities of practice that do not initially have a focus on education may be a way to draw in our community members who do not see education positively.  These individuals would have to connect with other community members in the same way that the insiders and outsiders as mentioned above.  Communities of practice cannot make an impact if they do not have buy-in from all members.  As relationships continue to build and mutuality is strengthened by engagement, imagination and alignment, the direction of this new community of practice can begin to shift its focus on educating our youth.  This community should include administrators, teachers and staff (both tribal and non-tribal), parents/guardians, students and community members.  Much of what people learn about what is going on in the community comes by word of mouth.  If we can create a strong community of practice, the word will get out and we can then begin to expand it to reach and include more members.

Redefining communities of practice on our Nation will be critical to changing the mindsets of all administrators, teachers and staff members, as well as community members, in regards to the educational system present on the reservation.  In order for us to build a successful school system, all of us must meet in the middle to ensure that we are preparing our students for the best possible future.  And, who doesn’t want that?


Cajete, Gregory.  (2008).  Seven orientations for the development of indigenous science education.  In N. K. Denzin, Y. S. Lincoln, & L. T. Smith (Eds.), Handbook of critical indigenous methodologies (pp. 487- 496).  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications.

Wenger, Etienne.  (2000) Communities of practice and social learning systems.  Organization, (7)2, 225-246.

Are American Indian Administrator Preparation Programs Needed?

Christman, D. E., Guillory, R. M., Fairbanks, A. R., & González, M. L. (2008). A model of American Indian school administrators: Completing the circle of knowledge in Native schools. Journal of American Indian Education, 47(3), 53–72.

As I explore the realm of Indian education, I have been inundated with all kinds of research topics.  This past week’s class made my head spin.  I went from knowing exactly what I want to do to wanting to do the exact opposite.  I really wanted to explore the impact that non-Native teachers have on Native American students in reservation schools or schools that serve a high population of Native students and how that affects student achievement and the development of student identities.  Or, something like that.  But, through our extensive conversation in class, I began to wonder if us Native people, students and staff, have an impact on our own achievement and identities by not embracing the cultures that come to teach in our schools.  What if we changed the way we treated, valued, and responded to non-Native teachers’ and administrators’ culture.  Does this have an impact in the way that non-Natives see us, treat us and value us?  Would student achievement increase if we did just what we expect non-Natives to do?  It’s a lot to consider, I know, but something completely worth thinking about.

Then, I stumbled upon this article, “A Model of American Indian School Administrators:  Completing the Circle of Knowledge in Native Schools” (2008) by Dana Christman, Raphael Guillory, Anthony Fairbanks, and Maria Luisa Gonzalez.  Having participated in a program very similar to the Model of American Indian School Administrators that Christman, et al. (2008) referenced, I began to wonder if I could blend the two ideas in my non-administrative position, though I do have a principal certificate.  There are many, many reasons why I am not at administrator yet, but that’s a whole different story.


In Christman, et. al.’s (2008) article, the researchers explored “the experiences and perceptions of American Indian pre-service administrators as they make their way through an educational leadership preparation program at a large, public research university.”  Their hope is that the study will help other colleges and universities develop culturally appropriate educational leadership programs to explore the “history behind how education is viewed and how it affects tribal nations” (Christman, et. al, 2008).

Their theoretical framework was surrounded by the notion of “cultural imperialism” (Christman, et. al., 2008).  The researchers identified four key concepts to identify cultural imperialism:  a modern world system that implies capitalism; society, a concept that implies that countries and communities outside a specified area are considered underdeveloped than the dominant culture; “dominating center of the system,” which refers to dominant societies; and, “values and structures, which “refer to the culture and actual organizations that originate from the dominating center and are foreign to other countries or areas considered to be lesser developed than the dominating center” (Christman, et. al., 2008).  The researchers stated, “a society is brought into the modern world system when its dominating level is involved, compelled, coerced, or even suborned into shaping its social foundations to correspond to, or even promote the values and structures of the dominating center of the system” (Christman, et. al, 2008).

In essence, the dominating center can and will overtake a system based upon the dominating culture.  If we apply this concept to teacher and administrator preparation programs, how many of them use curriculum that is specific to the needs to Native American populations?  We are not the “dominating center,” therefore, according to cultural imperialism, we are the lesser, underdeveloped culture, which requires the assimilation to the “dominating center.”  Thus, we have Native American history.

This qualitative study used information from participants through focus study groups with the goal of determining how they made meaning of the program and in their own personal progress.  There were twelve participants, three males and nine females, whose ages ranged from their late-twenties to mid-fifties.  The participants worked in rural to semi-rural preK-12th grade schools.  Three worked in high schools, 2 in middle schools, and seven in elementary schools.  Five worked in public schools and seven worked in Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.  At the time of the study, the cohort was about half way through the program (Christman, et. al., 2008).

Three focus group sessions were conducted that were based on an “open-ended, semi-structured questionnaire” (Christman, et. al., 2008).  Each session was audio recorded and transcribed verbatim by one researcher.  All researchers evaluated the audio recording and transcripts to ensure accuracy.

After analyzing their data, the researchers were able to identify five major themes based on the responses from the focus groups (Christman, et. al., 2008):

  1. Relationships:  a major source of support came from building relationships with their cohort members.
  2. Outside influences:  the participants were encouraged and supported to begin and continue the program by their family members and colleagues.
  3. Getting prepared:  the preparation the participants were receiving was important as to allow them to take ownership of their own education and how to apply what they were learning to their classrooms.
  4. Altruism:  this program was more than just a means of moving up, the participants saw this as their “calling” and if anyone was going to become an educational leader, it might as well be them.
  5. Concern for family:  participants took their families into consideration when they decided to apply for the program.  In turn, they were also concerned about how much time the program would require them to be away from their families.

Strengths & Critiques

The topic of this study is of great importance to me, as a Tohono O’odham educator.  I have found that the teacher and administrator preparation programs do not take into consideration non-mainstream education, in this case, American Indian education.  I hope that researchers will continue to research the need for culturally relevant teacher and administrator preparation programs.  This study has made light of its need and the critical student connections that they made to the coursework that was designed to prepare them to be successful in their place of work.

I am intrigued about the notion of cultural imperialism and its effects on the educational system and how it has impacted Indian education at a deeper level than I know.  Though the thought of reading about Native American cultures as “lesser developed” societies is sure to ruffle my feathers.  But, quite possibly, something positive may arise from delving into the deeper realms of education.

While I do value the time that the researchers dedicated to this study, I am left to wonder if this was worth all the time and effort that it took to complete.  The findings were rather generic, which could be applied to any type of cohort, or even to a particular individual.  Their findings about relationships, outside influences, getting prepared, altruism and concern for family are sure all things that we have thought about when we decided to take on this program, minus the American Indian pieces.  I know I took all of these things into consideration without even thinking about the program’s curriculum.


As I mentioned, I have been a part of a teacher and administrator preparation programs that were geared for Native Americans.  And, really, I cannot say that those cohorts made me better prepared to work with Native students.  Granted, there were some discussions that about how our perspectives as Native people could interpret some readings.  But, our courses were not approached from a Native perspective as a whole, like this one.  And, we definitely did not have any Native American professors!  Now, I wish they had taken this into consideration.

I am still stuck on Howard’s (2003) article, “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection.”  I am wondering if we would be able to incorporate the idea of critical teacher reflection into both teacher and administrator preparation programs geared towards American Indians as a means to develop fully rounded educators.  Native educators would be equipped with the knowledge to help non-Native teachers critically reflect on the impact their non-Native culture can negatively affect Native students, as well as begin reflections processes about how they (the teachers) and students can impact the views non-Native teachers have on them and the community.

A lot to ponder, I know…but, that just makes the journey I am about to embark on that much more exciting!

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.

Challenges and Approaches of Language and Culture Acquisition Faced By American Indians

Reyhner, J. (2003). Native Language Immersion. In L. L. Jon Reyhner, Octaviana V. Trujillo, Roberto Luis Carrasco (Ed.), Nuturing Native Languages (4th ed., pp. 1–6). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Retrieved from

When my soon-to-be father was preparing to visit the United States from across the world in India, his mother advised him to follow the adage of “When in Rome, doest as the Romans do.”  Although he was well-educated, worldly, and ambitious, he heeded her warning, as follows in Indian culture.  She wanted her son to be afforded all the opportunities of America and, to her, that meant that he assimilate himself into the Western culture and language so that his “foreignness” would be overlooked.

A few years later, he met and married my mother, and moved to my mother’s hometown, a small, rural town in Tennessee.  About a year later, I was born.  It was at the beginning of my life that I would receive and later recognize as my first lesson in language and culture.  My grandparents from both sides, hailing from India and my mother’s hometown, had specifically arrived for my birth.  As mine was a timely birth, my grandparents from India were able to attend my arrival through careful planning.  As is Indian custom, my father asked my grandparents what I should be named.  My paternal grandfather stated that he wanted me to be named Kalyani, after his beloved sister who had passed away decades earlier from tuberculosis.  However, after some discussion, everyone agreed that I should have an “American” first name so that I would not face future discrimination.  After being asked several times by the nurse to state a name, my parents asked her, on her last round of prompting, for the most common name of the year.  As you may well have guessed, it was Brittany.  My mother, in order to carve some uniqueness to the name, decided to spell it with an “i.”

Growing up, I remember weekly phone calls between my immediate family and my grandparents in India.  While I eagerly looked-forward to our phone calls, they were often abbreviated and static-filled with delays and misunderstandings.  Although both of my grandparents, and my father for that matter, were taught British-English in the Indian school system, I recall one phone conversation that was very revealing about the importance of language.  It was through a phone call filled with eager and frustrated moments of silence caused by delays, when finally my grandmother asked angrily, “Why haven’t you taught them Hindi or Bengali?”  My father looked shocked before asking my sister and I, “Why haven’t you learned Hindi or Bengali?”  My mother ended up answering that we had not learned the languages because he never taught us.  At the time, I realized that I was missing other languages that would deepen the linguistic connection and close the physical divide between my grandparents and I.

Furthering this realization were the monthly letters my grandparents would send my family.  The biggest segment was written in Hindi and addressed to my father, but they would always write in English for my sister, mom, and I.  Although I had these very revealing and informative experiences, it would take me years to realize the gravity, depth, and pain of them, both for myself and my grandparents.  The thought that my grandparents wanted to transmit traditional Indian culture to my sister and I through language, language that my sister and I never learned, must have hurt them to some degree.  The only real way to explain and transmit nuanced culture and worldview is through language, the very element that I am missing.

Through these experiences and my absence of language, I have gleaned the significant connection shared by language and culture.  This understanding, combined with my years teaching on the Navajo Nation, have lent a unique lens from which I perceive the complex issues of language and culture faced by American Indians today.  Jon Reyhner (2003) in his article “Native Language Immersion” deepened my understanding of these challenges and supportive strategies surrounding language and culture acquisition for American Indians.

Reyhner(2003)  purports in that the transmission of language can be taught in schools through immersion teaching methods, namely indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs.  Indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs should implement similar approaches to second language immersion programs.  However, the distinction of purpose should be raised as indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs revolve around the transmission of indigenous language, content, and culture.  Second language immersion programs foster the acquisition of the second language and its relevant content and culture with minimal or no use of the first language.  The ideal ratio of first language to second language use in typical language immersion programs is half-day or partial immersion for students in the language they are to learn.  However, “the less students are likely to be exposed to a new language [such as an indigenous language] they are learning outside of school, the more they need to experience it in school” (Reyhner, 2003, p. 1).

Total Physical Response (TPR) is one strategy that many practitioners implement in language acquisition programs. TPR takes place when language learners physically respond to simple directions by following gestures.  It can aid in students remembrance of auditory phrases.  TPR Storytelling (TPR-S) can also be utilized by students to comprehend and act-out stories.  TPR-S lessons helps students comprehend and memorize new vocabulary through the vocabulary’s incorporation into stories by encouraging students to “hear, watch, act out, retell, revise, read, write, and rewrite” (Reyhner, 2003, p. 2).  TPR and TPR-S have demonstrated to be effective strategies in teaching the indigenous Northern Cheyenne and the Ho Chuck languages, and should be included in indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs.

Reyhner (2003) draws on two impactful and influential programs adopted by indigenous peoples both in New Zealand and the United States.  The Maori of New Zealand initiated the Kohanga Reo, or mother-tongue immersion program for preschool.  In the preschool program, elders would speak nothing but Maori, so the students were completely immersed into the Maori language and culture.  The parents demanded that the government establish public schools in which their children could continue learning Maori.  So, the New Zealand government established Maori immersion elementary and secondary schools.  Eventually, the immersion program was extended to universities to offer Maori immersion teacher training.

The Hawaiian language immersion program was based on the Maori example.  Therefore, the immersion program began with preschools and later spanned public schools after the English-Only law for schools had been amended.  The movement has now been described as the “renaissance of the Hawaiian language” (Reyhner, 2003, p. 3).  While the Hawaiian language immersion program has been established, indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs throughout the mainland are still being explored, and are mostly implemented at the preschool and primary school levels.  A significant reason for this relegation is that bilingual literature for older students that includes both indigenous languages and English is nominal.

There are numerous benefits to indigenous mother-tongue immersion programs, such as the propulsion of endangered languages and cultures.  Furthermore, based on the natural approach to language acquisition, the acquisition process of a second language is very similar to that of the first language (Reyhner, 2003, p. 4). Consequently, there are numerous studies and strategies that can be implemented to foster the acquisition of the second, indigenous language.  However, the larger, more pressing challenge is the lack of indigenous literature.  Moreover, the lack of bilingual indigenous and English curricula that can be implemented in the teaching of academic content directly impacts equitable education for American Indian students.

The National Center for Education Statistics (1989) states that, “American Indian and Alaska Native students have a dropout rate twice the national average; the highest dropout rate of any United States ethnic or racial group… Academically capable Native students often drop out of school because their needs are not being met while others are pushed out because they protest in a variety of ways how they are treated in school” (Reyhner, 1992).  Therefore, if the current educational system, which is based on the transmission of academic knowledge through the English language, is not resulting in more American Indian students graduating, then the system should be altered to be more inclusive.

Another study that may build on this article would be how American Indian communities are dealing with this systemic issue.  Are they creating and implementing programs that teach their indigenous languages and traditions? Are there programs to guide students both academically and traditionally?  If there are no programs that address these issues in the United States, then the lens should expand to include other indigenous communities that have set up programs to address these challenges, and studies should be done to measure the effectiveness in the achievement of their goals, so they can be implemented here in the States.


Reyhner, Jon. (1998). Plans for Dropout Prevention and Special School Support Services for American Indian and Alaska Native Students [Abstract]. Journal of American Indian Education. Retrieved from