Discussions For and With Massachusetts Native Peoples

A Reassessment for Our Times

Indian Education in the Commonwealth – Voices of the People

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Our third listening session and roundtable was held in UMASS/Amherst on November 5, 2015.  The focus of the session was education and was hosted by the Certificate Program in Native American and Indigenous Studies. In addition to the presentations from Jennifer Weston, Ronda Anderson and Jonathan Hill, several audience members (both native and non-native) shared their thoughts, concerns, solutions and questions. The summary below represents those comments and is categorized by general headings, rights and issues.

 Curriculum

  • History of tribes not reflected in state’s curriculum
  • Public schools teaching discovery of lands, manifest destiny, colonized lands, books (i.e. “the Courage of Sarah Noble”) that reference native peoples as savages, squaws and heathens.
  • Teaching about Indigenous Peoples as if they only exist in the past
  • Native peoples/history and culture treated as special programs and not included in other topics such as science
  • Native parents feel compelled/or asked to educate their children’s teachers on history, culture

Native Students Feeling Invisible in Schools

  • The taking of lives has resulted in Natives being one the smallest populations in the US and on campus. They feel invisible, outnumbered, statistically insignificant, and unwanted. They are not included in most efforts or events dealing with marginalized populations on campus.

Mascots

  • 40 schools in Commonwealth still have native mascots
  • Negative impact on native children proven in studies

Establishing a Wampanoag School

  • Tribal families dissatisfied with public schools
  • Families looking for a school in which Wôpanâak language is the medium for all topics
  • Wôpanâak language immersion school would create new language speakers and ensure that language does not become extinct once again
  • No Native American languages are currently taught in Mass Public Schools. Wôpanâak language enrichment activities are now being offered for the first time in more than 350 years
  • Native students would also have a sense of where they belong, and understand ancestral connections to Wampanoag tribal homelands spanning more than 10,000 years

Barriers to Native Students Matriculation in Higher Education

  • Fewer native students in Native Studies Program at UMASS/Amherst; recruitment within native communities not allowed.
  • How native children are categorized in census statistics impacts funding.
  • Less scholarships given in recent years.
  • Native students are asking for more financial assistance, grants, assistantships and other resources.

Experience of Native Students in Higher Education in the Commonwealth

  • Native students see that state institutions are built on ancestral lands.
  • Native students see Ancestors that are housed in the academy along with their belongings, their voices, and the research produced from them.
  • Native students see the dominance of the intellectual legacies of collectors and the Eurocentric interpretations that have validation, respect, and influence that Native people and their own interpretations do not.
  • Native students see that they are often not able to challenge these intellectual ideologies even if a student is fully competent in them and their arguments against them are coherent. They are still asked to cite works and use words that do not reflect their ideas or values.
  • Native students often feel as if they are mascots or being collected by academics, and used to validate political ideals espoused by a professor or department. Many of these professors are non-Native, do not have good standing in the surrounding communities, and yet, they run programs and shape political agendas for Native students. This is perceived by many students to be an extension of the paternalist colonial agenda and while the support is appreciated, the lack of Native input and the authority directed by these people does not address the needs of the students.
  • Native students often feel that departments, educators, and administrators do not know how to approach them. They feel like they do not belong and have no place on campus despite the fact that that these institutions were built on the land and losses of their ancestors.
  • Native students are asking for more support, more mentors who have had an excellent record of working with students and communities both inside and outside the academy.
  • Native students are asking for more financial assistance, grants, assistantships and other resources.
  • Native students are also asking for spiritual support. This request is complicated because we all come from different backgrounds, but the need for culturally based and culturally sensitive spiritual support was mentioned by all.
  • Native students are asking for acceptance. The hierarchy in the academy already has native people and students at the bottom in terms of numbers, funding, and other metrics. Many students confront racist attitudes, like blood-quantum, which produces a “hierarchy within a hierarchy.” Many think that the academy could benefit by embracing the diverse diaspora of Indigeneity as a more accurate representation of Native identities.
  • Native students are asking to create healthy working environments where students are not caught in political turmoil or power dynamics. Again, there is a need for mentors who are interested in creating colleagues and community members instead of dysfunction and hostility that further alienate students.
  • Native students often feel that the call for community comes most often from students and that the safest relationships are with other Native students. Students mentioned that they have to abstain from working with some scholars because of their political agendas that “break-up” community. They have experienced hostility, aggression, and dismissive attitudes which has made their lives “complicated.”
  • Native students asked that extended community relations be integrated. Having Elders, youths, local and extended relations involved in the academy in a respectful and healthy way has also proven positive. Things work well when the extended communities know the mentors and supports on campus, and have a healthy working relationship with them.
  • Native students share stories of excellent mentoring and academic relationships with both Native and non-Native professors and staff. There are many who referenced the Native American Student Services office at UMass as being the best model of outreach and support. This office was dissolved at UMass five years ago and as a result the population has experienced a drastic decline in enrollment and support for Native students. The positive outcomes for students and communities generated by this office reveals that we can create spaces for positive educational experiences fostered by good mentors, responsible community members, spiritual resources, financial assistance, and facilitating the reclamation of Indigenous voices, moral purposes, and health.
  • Native students are asking that that the Massachusetts public university system (re)establish Native American and Indigenous Student Support Services, which had successfully addressed all current disparities and issues experienced by Native students. The Native support services once offered at UMass established a national standard and became model for Native student recruitment and support, needs to be revitalized.

 

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