Indigenous scholar Greg
Cajete visits Salish Kootenai College
scholar from the University of Montana answers questions and signs
books after his presentation at the Arlee/Charlo theatre on the SKC
campus last week. (Lailani Upham photo)
PABLO — Students, faculty, and
educators, and community members gathered at Salish Kootenai College
last week to hear first hand the curricula geared towards the special
needs and learning styles of Native American students from renowned
indigenous scholar and professor at the University of New Mexico, Greg
Approximately 35 people were in attendance.
The curriculum is based on Native American’s
the indigenous perspectives of the natural world
by using this foundation to develop an understanding of the science and
artistic thought process.
Cajete is the Director of Native American Studies
and an Associate Professor in the Division of Language, Literacy and
Socio cultural Studies.
He has lectured at colleges and universities in
the U.S. , Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, England, Italy, Japan and
Cajete explained ideas he found through his years
of research. He explained that there are four foundations of indigenous
knowledge that can go across the board for many tribes. The
foundations: traditional, empirical, revealed and contemporary.
Traditional knowledge he explained, is the handed
down knowledge gained based on stories and experiences of a people
Then next, empirical knowledge that is gained
through careful observation and practice over time, by letting the
stories guide you, he said.
Revealed knowledge is gained through vision,
ritual and ceremony.
The last foundation he mentioned was contemporary
knowledge that is gained through experience and problem solving.
He addressed that people are searching for meaning
and that many communities lack of sense of communal good, a
responsibility that is prevalent in an indigenous environment.
Cajete explained that a healthy community requires
a perception of belonging and supports a sense of identity.
Cajete encouraged the participants to at look
education in a different way.
Pearl Yellowman, a participant working toward her
doctorate degree in education from the University of Montana said that
hearing Dr. Cajete helped edge her in a new direction in her research.
She said she had been separating two aspects of indigenous learning and
felt she was getting stuck but the perspective Cajete shared pulled it
all together. “I’m excited to share this information this fall,” she
He explained that tribal communities succeed in
different ways and have different conflicts at tribal colleges. He
said, Indian communities are still haunted with the “Pratt theory.”
The Pratt theory developed 1887, when the federal
government attempted to “Americanize” Native Americans, specifically
through the education of Native youth. By 1900, thousands of Native
Americans were studying at almost 150 boarding schools around the
Captain Richard Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian
Boarding School in Pennsylvania where many children were taken from
their tribal communities and families. The idea was to strip away
tribal culture and language in order to adapt to American culture.
“Kill the Indian, and save the man” were Pratt’s words carried down in
history that still haunts Native American communities today, Cajete
Cajete explained indigenous education forms a
foundation for community renewal and revitalization.
He urged educators and the community as a whole to
educate for the re-creation of cultural economies around an indigenous
paradigm. He said to do it people must learn the tribal history and
principles of their own tribe and tribes and explore ways to
“translate” it into the present.
He emphasized that many native communities are
multi-racial, meaning that one student may carry the blood of six
tribes, and this is another exploration when it comes to forming a
foundation for a community renewal.
Questions that arise at every presentation usually
boils down to the same question Cajete said. And that is; “How do we do
it?” His answer, “We start with our own families.” He explained that
tribal people did not need to teach it, they were doing it, “Create a
curriculum to think on that,” he said.
A faculty member from SKC, Bill Swaney shared a
comment in agreement with Dr. Cajete philosophy that Swaney does what
he can to impact and change a community, “One student at a time.”
Yellowman said she has been a follower of his work
and reading his books. As a Navajo, she said the Peublo are neighbors
to her tribal people, she explained that Cajete’s people still in many
ways live their ancient ways. “It was nice to hear him speak of it
(traditional knowledge) in a scholarly setting.”
Professor Cajete has authored five books: “Look to
the Mountain: An Ecology of Indigenous Education,” “Ignite the Sparkle:
An Indigenous Science Education Curriculum Model,” “Spirit of the Game:
Indigenous Wellsprings,” “A People’s Ecology: Explorations in
Sustainable Living,” and “Native Science: Natural Laws of