Indigenizing the Curriculum:

some questions and concerns from an inquiring anthropologist,

with a little help from his friends

In preparation of the Fourth Annual American Indian Speakerís Series and Workshops

November 3 - 6, 2003

University of Idaho



Inception: This yearís Series grew out of a desire by the American Indian Studies faculty continue to improve upon our teaching of Indian history, literature, arts and culture. We are seeking to create learning environments that better convey the breadth and scope of the American Indian experience, that contribute back to and benefit Indian communities, and that incorporate Indian culture and history into our curriculum in appropriate and authentic ways.

Premise: 1. "Indianness" for Indian students is exceeding valuable; with the inverse, assimilation of Indian students at best problematic. Student "success" is enhanced when a studentís heritage and community identity are retained and celebrated, resulting in improved retention rates, better integration in oneís academic discipline, and increased likelihood of contributing back to oneís community, among other things. 2. An appreciation of "Indianness" by non-Indian students is exceeding valuable, increasing sensitivity, collaborations, and challenging deeply embedded stereotypes and prejudices. A key: how and who defines "Indianness"?  For example: the Federal Government, Academic Scholars, or each Indian community itself?

Go to:

A. Ethics and Sovereignty  q

1. Application and Extension of Cultural Property Rights. Doing research with the Coeur díAlenes, Nez Perce and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs over the last several years, I have become very aware of the role and importance of entering into cultural and intellectual property rights agreements. Ingrained in such agreements, among other key considerations, is the creation of collaborative relationships (working tribal and academic researcher teams, as well as formalized institution-to-tribe partnerships), acknowledgment and support of sovereign tribal status, and a review and approval process conducted by the appropriate tribal cultural committees and the Tribal Councils that considers the authenticity and appropriateness of all cultural properties before public dissemination.

- Questions: Given the scope and type of cultural materials (history, ethnography, arts, social practices, religion, literature, etc.) considered in research-oriented projects and subject to cultural property rights agreements, are those same types of cultural materials, when used in a classroom setting, similarly subject to cultural and intellectual property rights considerations?

- If not, why? How do we distinguish, as a tribeís cultural property, the cultural materials acquired through field research and published for educational purposes in a scholarly journal on one hand, from cultural materials acquired through someone elseís research or oneís own and presented for educational purposes in a classroom on the other hand?

- (rephrasing the issue) Given the emerging issues associated with cultural and intellectual property rights, and the critical importance of tribal sovereign status, to what extent are faculty thus ethically obligated to have the cultural materials used in the curriculum (in textbooks adopted and lectures presented) that are directly associated with a particular tribal community (e.g., Nez Perce or Coeur díAlene) first reviewed and approved by the appropriate Cultural Resource Office or other tribal designate for their authenticity and appropriateness before their use in our classes?

- How do tribes address this issue?

2. Owning Culture. An essential premise of any cultural and intellectual property rights initiative holds that "knowledge," as tribally-derived, is something that can be "owned," or at least something that can and should be "regulated" and legally "controlled" by a given community. Question: Is this a viable and defensible premise?

- Who then in a tribal community has the right and responsibility to speak to issues of "ownership" - e.g., a tribally-designated Cultural Resource Office, the Tribal Council itself, or an individual tribal member, such as an elder, or how about an academic scholar who has worked closely with a tribe for 30 years, etc.?

- To what extent is it ethically appropriate to seek out Cultural Resource Office participation in the design and content of oneís course?

- Do all tribal communities want to assume such responsibilities?

- What is the criteria upon which a tribal community designates particular types and expressions of tribal knowledge as "cultural property"?

- How does this vary from tribal community to tribal community?

- What are the limitations, boundaries and implications of this "ownership" premise, especially in the context academic freedom and the pursuit of academic excellence?

- Can this be logistically accomplished with fairness to all faculty (given geographic and historical considerations)?

- In pursuing tribal review and approval of cultural materials, does this action not compromise the tenets upon which the academy is based, i.e., academic integrity and freedom?

- If some faculty pursue this approach while others do not or can not, does this create and result in disparity in expectations and schisms within both the academic and the Indian communities?

- If pursued, could this not lead to a virtual stymieing of the sharing and presentation of Indian cultural materials in an education setting (with the exception of a few "elite" faculty), and thus negating the mission of informing and educating a non-Indian population already well versed in ignorance and prejudice toward the Indian? Where do we draw the lines?

- How would various tribes address this issue?

B. Pedagogy q

1. Teaching: the How. What is the relationship between what we teach, the content, and how we teach it, the pedagogy?

- If a primary goal (the "what") is to understand and appreciate the Indian experience(s) (in history, in ethnography, as an Indian writer, on the reservation, etc.), to what extent does an application of a Euro-American pedagogy (the "how") undermine and simply "white-wash" the Indian content?

- What are some models and examples of an appropriate application of an Indian pedagogy in a Euro-American classroom setting?

- In seeking to incorporate elements of an Indian pedagogy into the classroom, how far can and should we go?

- In incorporating an Indian pedagogy, under what circumstances is the "line crossed" and such endeavors become labeled "wannabe" and "new-ager," and violate critical ethical issues associated with tribal appropriateness and approval? Where is the balance to be found?

- How would various tribes address this issue?

2. How do we incorporate appropriate pedagogical methods into our classrooms that address differing learning styles? How to we teach and how do we test for these differences?

C. Content q

1. Teaching: "What Not." In pursuit of attempting to appreciate the Indian experience(s) and perspective(s), to what extent is the application of implicitly Euro-American praxis, empiricist, rationalist, Euro-American ways of knowing, Cartesian, Marxist, and colonial paradigms (most of us have been brought up within and continue to perpetuate) simply a "white-washing" of the Indian and inhibits an appreciation of that we seek to understand? How do we go about purging such paradigms from the presentation of our Indian curriculum?

2. Teaching: "the What" (reverse side of coin). How do we go about validating and infusing Indian ways of knowing and content into the curriculum?

- What are the appropriate Indian paradigms, organizational structures, and subject contents that best present Indian perspectives? Offer some models and examples.

- Seeking a collaboration with the tribal communities and in pursuit of attempting to appreciate the Indian experience(s) and perspective(s), how should faculty seek out and assure the presentation of the key curriculum subjects and topics of particular relevance to the tribal communities?

2. Teaching: "What Not" Revisited. In pursuit of attempting to appreciate the Indian experience(s) and perspective(s), are there areas of cultural sensitivity and appropriateness (content and subject materials) that should be "off-limits," and not identified and presented in a classroom setting?

- In the instance of "ceremonial and spiritual practices," what are the parameters and how in-depth can such cultural materials be considered and discussed?

- Who should make such determinations and upon what criteria should those determinations be based?

3. Intra-Tribal Differences. Is there a potential dilemma when one tribal community (e.g., via their Cultural Committee and Tribal Council) has not only approved but desires to have certain cultural materials publically presented for educational purposes, while another tribal community seeks to prohibit the presentation of similar cultural materials? If there is a conflict, how could it be approached and resolved?

4. Who Can Speak. In pursuit of attempting to appreciate and understand the Indian experience(s) and perspective(s), is there an issue in who can and should speak for and about Indian experiences, e.g., Euro-American scholars, Indian elders, it is an enrollment and blood quantum designation?

- Is so, who should make such determinations and upon what criteria should those determinations be based?

D. Resources

1. Underlining Theme. The underlining theme of this workshop is that of "breaking down the walls" of the classroom and taking students into the "classroom of the elders," e.g., along the Clearwater River or to Chatcolet Lake, and having the elders come into the Moscow classroom. Question: In pursuit of attempting to appreciate the Indian experience(s) and perspective(s), and acknowledging the relationship between what is taught and how it is taught, to what extent should the classroom be re-designed to be more experiential and inclusive of tribal voices?

2. Where, Who and What. One of the big challenges many faculty have is knowing where to go, who to ask, and what are appropriate subjects to ask others to help with. Who in the tribal community should be sought out for guidance, as classroom speakers and as field trip guides? Given cultural property rights and tribal sovereignty, who is appropriate to seek out (e.g., Cultural Resource Office, students in class, acquaintance, etc.). What are the appropriate procedures to do so?

3. Collaborative Endeavors - Are the tribal communities willing to partner in this fashion?

- What is the appropriate relationship between the academic community and the tribal community?

- Should such partnerships be compensated? What is appropriate compensation?

- At the same time, elders have lives and should not be over-whelmed with requests from faculty.

4. Some Options. What sorts of field activities are educational sound, as well as culturally appropriate for a primarily non-Indian student population?

- What about the Internet as an option for information? What criteria should we apply to assess the authenticity and appropriateness of web sites? How might the Internet present materials distinct from a literacy-based format?

Two recommended sites:

NimŪipuu (Nez Perce) - Lifelong Learning Online

Schitsu'umsh (Coeur d'Alene) - Lifelong Learning Online

- What about textbook, journal and film options? What criteria should we apply to assess the authenticity and appropriateness of web sites?

E. Students q

1. Diverse Classroom Needs. Given the differences in Indian and non-Indian student values and ways of learning, how might faculty develop appropriate pedagogy and assessment tools to meet the needs of a diverse student population?

- How do Indian students, non-Indian students, and their faculty view the participatory roles and expectations of Indian students in the classroom? Simply because a student is "Indian," should that student be expected to speak for all Indians or even his or her own tribe?

2. Empowerment. How do can the faculty help empower students to take an active role in their education, celebrate their particular heritages (if they so desire), and become active in their own future professional disciplines and home communities?

- For those Indian students who are seeking to gain additional knowledge of their tribal heritage and integrate it into their academic studies, who best can faculty facilitate these student goals, e.g., linking them with elders from their own community, providing models of tribal-Euro-American knowledge integration, etc.?

3. Who? Some Indian activists question the motivations of historians, anthropologists, and non-Indian students who want to "study Indians." What motivations and qualifications are appropriate? Who should study and teach about Indians? What resources should teachers use when teaching about Indian culture, history, art and literature, and political economy.

- Given the varied backgrounds and associations each faculty member brings with him or her to the classroom (e.g., academic disciplines, research and work experiences, familial ties with Indian communities, etc.), how does a faculty member best introduce and present himself or herself to both non-Indian and Indian students in such a manner that enhances interaction with all students in the course and effectively presents the curriculum?

- To what extent is it appropriate and proper for faculty to assume an advocacy role in issues of concern voiced by their Indian students and the communities they come from?

4. How can faculty be more sensitive to Indian student concerns and issues, as well as their family and community responsibilities?

Prepared by and for more information:

Rodney Frey
Professor of American Indian Studies and Anthropology American Indian Studies Program
University of Idaho
Moscow, Idaho 83844-1110