Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

August 5, 2010

Indigenous scholar Greg Cajete visits Salish Kootenai College

By Lailani Upham

Indigenous 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)
Indigenous 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 Cajete.

Approximately 35 people were in attendance.

The curriculum is based on Native American’s understanding of

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 Russia.

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 through time.

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 added.

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 United States.

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 addressed.

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 Interdependence.”

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