Roxanne Gould

Roxanne Gould smiling at her desk

Educator, Indigenous Educational Design Consultant

Even with an Ed.D. in Educational Policy and Leadership and a career that has included international travel to work with indigenous groups in other countries, Roxanne Gould is reluctant to be considered an expert in the field of education. But when asked to speak as a mother and grandmother with 25 plus years of working in education, Roxanne readily offers a wealth of innovative ideas on how to provide a better learning experience for Native kids. Her family roles “keep me ever mindful of the responsibility that we have to future generations and the legacy that we’re leaving for those that come after us,” Roxanne explained. In this interview, Roxanne reflects on her experience working with Indigenous groups around the world; her years working with educational organizations, Native and non-Native, in the United States; and from her experience as a teacher, offers suggestions for working effectively with Native youth.

Additional thoughts from Diane Wilson about Roxanne Gould and A World of Ideas

Family/Personal Background

Roxanne: I’m Roxanne Gould. I’m Odawa and Ojibwe, Grand Traverse and Little Traverse bands of Michigan. I was born and raised in South Dakota. It was an interesting place for an Ojibwe/Odawa to be raised. My grandma fell in love with a Nakota/Lakota man and we ended up in South Dakota. My mom is also from South Dakota. My kids are enrolled at Sisseton. I have two grown children. I’m a grandma, which is very important to me now. It keeps me ever mindful of the responsibility that we have to future generations and the legacy that we’re leaving for those who come after us.

I attended Flandreau Indian School for a brief time until my dad died when I was 16. It’s kind of interesting that they’ve asked me to come and be their graduation speaker this year. I didn’t graduate from there. I left in my junior year. It’s an honor to be asked. My grandfather and father in law went to school there.

I’m also a graduate of the University of South Dakota. I did both my bachelor’s and my master’s there. My BA was in American Indian studies and Social Behavior. My MA was in Educational Psychology. Most of my career has been working in education, about half in K-12, about half in higher education. I came up to Minneapolis to work at the University of Minnesota and pursue my doctorate in Educational Policy and Leadership. I have done a lot of work internationally with Indigenous people, mostly in the area of education and politics looking at how we can work together to create a greater voice in the world community. Our histories, particularly with colonization, are the same.

My dissertation research was mostly done abroad with the Maoris in New Zealand, looking at their Indigenous educational movement. It was incredible. The first time I was there was in 1998. A delegation had been invited from the University of Minnesota. We had been invited to an aboriginal conference in Australia. The Maoris had asked if we would stop off in New Zealand. We said sure, never been there before. They gave us a quick tour of their schools and showed us the work they were doing in their language nests. It was very exciting. I wanted to go back and learn more.

When I started my doctorate I decided that this was what I wanted to focus on. Not to say that we haven’t had success in the United States. Some Native people were questioning, “why are you going over there? We have our own problems here.” What I was trying to do was to get a mountain top view, to be able to step back and see the bigger picture. This not only helps you to get another perspective but it also helps you appreciate what you have. I went to New Zealand five different times working on my research. They kind of made me a part of their Indigenous PHD program while I was there. The program is called the MAI program.

Two of the scholars that I was working with the most were instrumental in getting that program going. Their goal was to train 500 Maori Ph.D.s in five years but they accomplished it in three. Linda Tuhiwai Smith, who I consider to be one of the leading indigenous education scholars in the world, said, “I have a small goal. That’s to train enough Maoris to run a country.” She was serious. I think they will accomplish that goal if they haven’t already.

In the beginning the Maori educational movement was very much a separatist movement because they were tired of being blamed by the system for the system’s failures to educate Maori kids. In terms of education, their student retention and graduation was much like it has been for Native students. Students weren’t graduating, they weren’t achieving, and so forth. The public education system in New Zealand blamed them rather than looking at the problems that the system itself might have caused. They started with a separatist educational movement and said, “your education is a flawed instrument of domination. We’ll create our own schools.” They were very political. A lot of their strategies were very much based in Freirean and Socialist ideology. They were tired of waiting for the system to change so they started Maori schools in empty garages, people’s basements, and in abandoned buildings. People volunteered their time. It was really the urban students that started these language schools because the Maori language was dying.

Linda’s husband, Graham Smith, who is as good as Linda in terms of scholarship, always talks about how their love and concern for the language is what brought people together. What they attempted to do was create a language revitalization movement but what they accomplished was a political revolution. It was very inspiring.

That’s where I did my dissertation work. When I came back to the cities, the University of Minnesota laid me off because they were cutting back on their programs that served students of color. The American Indian Studies department was the first in the nation. I think the American Indian Learning Resource Center (AILRC) was also probably one of the first. They were gradually cutting, cutting, cutting. The AILRC, when I began we had five staff and now they have just one full-time staff. They just made a recent attempt to close it down again. Eventually that’s their hope that they will. They want to lump all the “minorities” into one small program refusing to recognize our First Nations status and that the university sits on Native land. It is a land grant institution.

I was a single mom working fulltime at the U as the Director for the American Indian Learning Resource Center and finishing my doctorate. The U laid me off so Fond du Lac Tribal Community College, the urban outreach program here in Minneapolis scooped me up. I just loved it. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. To be able to work every day in a learning community that is indigenous was such a gift. Lots of things are understood. Students come in at different levels of acculturation. But there are just things that are understood. Administration would give us course topics but we could determine what we used and how we wanted to teach it. Everything was from an indigenous perspective. Because a lot of my work has been grounded in critical literacy, that was also a part of everything that I did as well.

Then that college closed after three years. It was heartbreaking because it was the only Native college left in the urban area. We have colleges in the area that have American Indian studies courses but it’s not the same as when we can self-determine what we do. So I think of that as an incredible experience that I’m not sure will get duplicated again in my lifetime.

Joe: You don’t think they’ll try and reestablish it?

Roxanne: I think we would love to but this is not the time. There’s several of us that would love to. We had a very small committed group of faculty that all taught from a critical literacy perspective. We were mixed, probably about 60% Native, 40% non-Native. But the non-Native folks got it. They were good.

Now I’m working as a consultant for Indian Education, doing program and resource development. I also do consultant work for Natives in Philanthropy. I’m helping them to develop a curriculum for their fundraising training and coordinating their leadership program. So that’s who I am.

International Pedagogical Models or The View from the Mountaintop

Roxanne: It’s a privilege to have been able to travel and work with Indigenous people in other parts of the world. Growing up, a little Indian girl in South Dakota to teenage parents and later a single mom, it just wasn’t on my radar screen. None of this was on my radar screen. I knew that I wanted to go to college because my mom told me ever since I could remember, that I GET to go to college. She’d say “I’m saving money for you and you GET to go to college someday.” She never got to go to college until after she raised us. I think she had $350 saved for me by the time I went to college. It was never like I had to go. I wanted to go. I loved learning and I loved books. It just seemed like when I was away from school that I wanted to be there again. Even though it wasn’t in my plan to do all these things, I think it was spirit’s plan.

Being able to look from the mountain top began when I was working as the Director for Educational Equity and Indian Education in Sioux City, Iowa. I applied for a Kellogg Fellowship. I had no intentions of leaving the country. I had never been outside the country before. I received the fellowship and they told me I was going to travel outside the country to fulfill my learning plan. You had to develop a learning plan on an area outside of your discipline so I couldn’t do it in education. I decided to do it in the area of health and healing. They were trying to stretch folks as part of their leadership development strategy. It was a nice fellowship for three-years. They spent about $150,000 on each of us back in the early 90’s. I believe there were 50 of us. I traveled to Guatemala, Cuba, Sweden and Norway, met the Sami, to China, up into Canada, and the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, which was required. I met people at all those places who were indigenous. They were so happy to meet another Indigenous person. They were so welcoming. I listened to their stories. Their stories were our stories. When I told them our stories, they had such a desire to connect again and to connect with other indigenous people. All of us realized that within our little tiny communities there are some things we can do. It’s important to work on a grassroots level but if we come together we can create a greater voice. We can make a larger impact. There’s 90 million Indigenous people in this hemisphere. That’s a lot of indigenous people.

The places that left the greatest impression on me during that fellowship were Guatemala and Cuba. Guatemala because it’s 85% indigenous and at least 10% probably have indigenous heritage, they just don’t claim it. The other 5 % have no heritage. It was incredible to be in a place where there were so many brown-skinned people. They dressed in their traditional clothing and they spoke their languages. They had survived genocide attempt after genocide attempt. Somehow they still were able to keep their culture and languages alive. That was really powerful to witness. The first time I was there, there was still a civil war going on. Guatemala is also a place where I have continued to keep a relationship with. I’ve been doing work there off and on since 1995 with Mayan communities, mostly working with women and children. Summer before last I was asked to help lead a group of teachers and faculty there, for a seminar called “Education for Decolonization.” We were looking at the work that they’ve been doing since the war ended. It was just incredible to experience the political consciousness of the Maya people. They’re so determined to create something better, yet they’re so poor. We always think money is the answer to everything but like the Maoris, they said, “the heck with it, we’re just going to start our own”. We met these young Maya men. They were being trained in Guatemala City but they were going to go back to create a Maya University in their community. There wasn’t any dollars for them to do it. They just wanted to have an institution of higher education where they could teach in their language, their ways of knowing and to create enough people to effectively run their communities. Like everybody else the Maya are beginning to lose their language. The younger generation of Maya understands but doesn’t speak, much like us.

I also went to Cuba. Cuba is a place everybody should visit. Cuba is inspiring for lots of different reasons, mainly because they’ve been able to resist the Goliath 90 miles off of their shores that has attempted to overthrow their government and to undermine socialism for 60 years. I think the people that speak the harshest about Cuba are some of the most racist which makes me even more interested in Cuba. When I went to Cuba, the first time, the racism was hardly present, if at all. The leadership worked very hard to address after the revolution succeeded. In the United States you definitely know it’s here, even though we’ve made progress, you know it’s here. The leadership here has never taken the aggressive stand against it like they did in Cuba. People in Cuba are mostly mixed-race living all together. In the government 50% women of the leadership are women. Black people and white people and brown people in between all lead. People don’t earn huge amounts of money. They don’t have the class structures we do here. Everyone earns about the same amount of money. One of my friends who was the head of Cuban media, her name was Consuela Alba was involved with the revolution when she was only 13 years old. She was in Che Guevara’s squadron. Her job was to do literacy work with the folks in the countryside. Prior to the revolution Cuba had an illiteracy rate of 85%. Cuba was the playground for the rich and the mafia from the United States. The Cuban people were servants to those people. Even though Consuela was the head of media she lived in a modest apartment according to US standards. What she was most proud of was that she helped build that apartment building. She’s an elder now. In Cuba if one person was poor, most people were poor. It was more like how our Indigenous communities were here in the US prior to colonization I believe. For me, our traditional communities were very much socialist in the way that we took care of our communities and the way that we governed. This to me is a contemporary example of how that could be.

Those two places were the ones that inspired me the most. After that, spirit seemed to have it destined that I would continue to do international work. I helped to lead an indigenous exchange to New Zealand and Australia. I was asked to lead an indigenous exchange to the Basque country in Spain. I helped lead a group to Guatemala and was asked to do some teaching in Mexico, and to present to international conferences. It’s continued to be something that I’ve been able to do.

New Zealand was the one where I focused more specifically on indigenous education and how we could take some of these good ideas and use them to benefit indigenous education in the United States. The Maoris themselves are really good examples of how to look for good ideas and make them their own. They have a metaphor, an old story, about an octopus Te Wheke A Toi. Te Wheke has these big arms that reach out to all these different places in the world finding good ideas to bring back home and make them Maori. So that’s kind of what I think of myself doing: looking for good ideas to bring back home to see what we can do to make things different. To try to breathe new life into old traditions to create models that work as we educate Native students. Some things may not work but we have to try. We know that the old system hasn’t worked so why keep doing the same old same old. That’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Why not try? What do we have to lose?

The Maori tribal college system is also extremely impressive. Within five years of creation they had Ph.D. programs that are accredited. They didn’t start out accredited but they did such a good job the government had to accredit them. Not only do they have mainstream Ph.D. programs but they have Ph.D.s in Maori knowledge. You can get a Ph.D. in carving because Maori wood carvers are so rare and unique. They are the ones that carve the big wakes (canoes) and the maraes (traditional house of learning]. Why shouldn’t they have a Ph.D? No one else in the world does what they do. I think that of our language speakers and teachers. We have these people and no one else does what they do. We have so few first language Dakota speakers, only 8 here in Minnesota. No one else knows what they know. Why don’t we lift them up? They have knowledge that’s unique and no one else in the world has it.

The mountain top is a place where you can’t stay all the time. You have to be both grassroots and far reaching at the same time. If you just stay up there, on the mountain, you lose touch with your community. Again I see how the Maoris that I worked with deal with this issue. Many of them worked in the ivory towers of higher education but are now back working at their tribal colleges in their communities. They’re very hard workers. The measure of whether the work is good or not is if you can take it to your community in a good way. It’s never been my goal to stay up there. I’ve always wanted and needed to be a part of my community and to be useful.

Pedagogical Ideas & Programs Worth Exploring

Don Day, who was the president of our tribal college was very visionary but the chancellor didn’t keep him on and our college closed. The state college basically consumed the tribal college. As I stated before everything at our college was taught from an Indigenous and critical literacy perspective. I think that there’s a lot of great ideas out there, not just mine, but lots of ideas folks have. This effort that you all are making to pull some of these ideas out of Native educators who are working in the community is a great place to start. I think we do need to continue to connect with people in other parts of the country and world who are doing good work. Sandy Grande who is a fabulous Indigenous scholar who wrote Red Pedagogy should be looked at by every educator who teaches Native students. Gregory Cajete is also fabulous. He writes a lot about Indigenous science. He is one of those scholars that went up the ivory tower ladder and did all the academic stuff. He’s published like crazy. I’ve always liked him but he’s had more of that drive. But as he is coming into his elderhood, I see him doing so in a really beautiful way where he’s gone back to his basic Pueblo culture and teachings and creating this wonderful integrated Indigenous science model. It feels like things are coming full circle for him. I really like his work.

I’m always looking for ideas, how can we make things better. One of the ways is to, like the Maoris, create enough people to run a country; certainly enough people to run a university or a school district. We need Native researchers as well as teachers and administrators. Indian Education is trying to start this relationship with the University of Minnesota to create research that is going to be useful to Native people. I’m a little apprehensive about it because it is not an indigenous person who is leading this. But it could be fine. We’ll see where it goes. We need indigenous researchers that will not just research on us but will work with us to generate research that’s meaningful and will help us to move forward. We want to know what’s working and what’s not with Native students. We also want to work with others who are doing the same. We need people who can implement theory and create theory. Native people here in the US have been really fearful of theory. The Maoris have created theory, they call it Kaupapa Maori theory which is the basis for their educational movement. We as Native people need to be both reflective on our past traditions and past scholarship but ever mindful of the future. With these young people today, it’s not enough to just lecture them on tradition. That’s not going to capture them the way we need to capture them. It certainly is important and needs to be the foundation of what we do in indigenous education but Vine DeLoria talked about how we would never truly be sovereign until we figured out how to be indigenous in a contemporary society. These young people are saying the same thing, “Yes, I’m indigenous but there’s other things I am, and other things I want to be.” I think the media program at Migizi is really exciting because it’s one important way we can capture the youth. If they don’t want to do paper and pencil research, do it on film, do it in voice, do it in music. We as educators need to be open to doing that.

There’s been some other exciting educational programs that I’ve visited throughout the nation. I just came back from Jemez Pueblo in New Mexico where I visited their charter school. I had been hearing good things about this school so when I was in New Mexico, I thought I need to see this school. I found somebody who told me how to get to the school, and that they would set up the visit. The morning I was going to leave New Mexico was the only time I could go so I took off down this dirt road and up a hill. I came to a building but it was locked. I asked the man walking in the building, “Is this the school”? He said, “No, that is the school,” and pointed to three trailers. I was temporarily stunned but soon learned they were doing some really good work in those trailers. They get a lot of the kind of kids that our alternative schools get; kids who have really been disillusioned with the mainstream system. I knocked on the door because that door was locked, and this beautiful young man who is their assistant principal came out, looked at me like, and said “Who are you?” I thought, this definitely did not get set up as I was told. I explained who I was and asked if I could talk with him. He said, sure, and welcomed me in. He could have just told me to go away but he didn’t.

This school was called an early college high school. They have some very interesting staff there who just want to be there. One of their teachers is retired from National Geographic, who’s been all around the world, and of course has incredible photos. She teaches all the humanities stuff. They also have Ph.D. math/science teacher that’s quite exceptional, retired, wanted to do something different and ends up at a charter school on the reservation with 60 kids. At first a lot of these kids are playing catch up on their skills and credits so they work on really building skills that first year and catching the students up to speed. They also have this very impressive study abroad program. In the first year in 9th grade, students go to Washington D.C. and learn about the interface between the United States government and Native nations. The second year they go to Mexico to work with the Tarahumara and learn about their experiences as Indigenous people being close to the border of the United States. The third year they go to India, the fourth year they do an entire semester in New Zealand working with the Maori. In their senior year, they’ve completed everything but their English. They have the post secondary option for high school students like we have here so by the time these students graduate, they also have college credits. They have very cool relationships with their institutions of higher education in New Mexico. They don’t make it impossible like many of ours do here to access it. It’s a very cool school. Somehow they’ve captured Indian kids that didn’t want to be in school.

The other important strategy to remember is that education has to be relevant to the lives of these kids. If you lecture them on abstract topics, even if they are interesting topics, if they can’t see how it’s relevant, it’s boring to them and we lose them. We have to figure out ways to make education more relevant to Native kids. Another school that I visited was in New York, and there is also one in Duluth called City in the School. This was not a Native school but it was just a very interesting model. Most of student learning took place out in the community so it was very relevant. They were doing their classes out in the community working on things like science in places where people use science in their work; in hospitals and laboratories. They were learning how science was relevant to our lives. If they asked ‘Why do I have to learn this?” They could see first-hand people need to know how to do these things to run a society. Most of the course work is done outside the school utilizing people who are doing the work every day. The school in Duluth is called Harbor Light I believe.

Suggestions for Teaching Indigenous Youth

I feel I don’t have all the answers by any means but hopefully if you cover lots of ground with lots of different people you’ll get some answers that will be useful to you. Hopefully each one of us will contribute a piece of information or insight that you might be able to use to improve education for Indigenous students. I’m always hesitant to be considered an expert.

Diane: Speaking as a mother, grandmother, and someone who has years of experience in the field and really cares about the future of the kids…

Roxanne: That’s a place that I can speak from. I have those experiences plus 25 years of working in education so I’ve seen lots of things and done lots of things and some worked better than others. Some I would say, don’t want to do that again.

I think that there’s a need to work both inside and outside of dominant society institutions. The things that excite me the most are things that we as Indigenous people have created even if we struggle. I think those are the things that have the greatest opportunity to bring about the kind of change we’re seeking. But not all of our people are going to participate in the institutions that we create and many of them are going to continue to be a part of public schools, state colleges and universities. We need to have a presence there as well. I’ve worked in both systems. I’ve always worked with my community. Working in dominant society systems is more challenging and it’s more lonely. But it’s necessary for our people to be there. Working in organizations that we create is hard too. But to me I feel like the work is more purposeful. When I was at the tribal college, we were small so we did everything from emptying trash and vacuuming floors to being a college professor. It all felt purposeful and I didn’t mind doing any of it. It was what was needed in order to keep things going.

When I was working at the university as a director I was pulled away more than I liked. It often didn’t feel purposeful. I remember many times thinking, what difference is this going to make to my students? I’m spending huge amounts of time on things that will never benefit my students. At one time, the University had me on 15 different committees. I felt frustrated because that was not why I came to work at the University. I wanted to make a difference with Indian students. Although the University gave us little time to work directly with Native students, if they were not achieving, it’s considered our fault. We also were not in the classroom with the students. They kept you from working with them like we should have and wanted to.

There’s some things that we did way back in the ‘80s in Iowa that I thought were really good. In some ways I think we accomplished more than the public schools are accomplishing today. That was in a predominantly white system, which is interesting because the system I am in now is predominantly a system with students of color, although the staff is mostly Caucasian. It seems like it’s really hard to accomplish stuff in a larger system.

In Iowa we were required to create a multi-cultural staff development and curriculum plan. It was something that everybody had the responsibility to uphold. All of the staff had to be trained on a regular basis how to work equitably with diversity. Curriculum had to have multi-cultural content. District policy and hiring had to reflect that as well. It was interesting because in Iowa they passed a multi-cultural, non-sexist law in 1973 that all districts in Iowa were required to do this. That was in 1973. They still don’t have anything like that in Minnesota. Our state department of education does not seem to know that Native people even exist anymore. It makes a difference who is in leadership. Some of these visionary leaders were so effective during their time that the institution vowed to never have one like that again. It just seems like Minnesota, which was the heart of the American Indian Movement, heart of the early communist/socialist movement, would have some of this stuff in place. But they don’t.

There were some good things that we did. We had a very active educational equity committee made up of community folks, kind of like the PIE (Phillips Indian Educators) group, but they were made up of all colors, all backgrounds. They were movers and shakers. All of the pushing always came from them. I was the insider who fed them the information and they pushed. We were at every school board meeting and some of those meetings would go to 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. We vowed to let the district know we existed and we weren’t going to go away. Parents, community leaders, all worked together because we were small in numbers. That doesn’t happen here. The communities of color feel very segregated to me in Minneapolis. That was kind of a shock when I first moved here. In Iowa we would attend each other’s events and support each other’s issues.

I think there are some really good things that have and are happening in the Minneapolis Schools. I think there was a time when Native people had large presence under Rosemary Christianson. She had a large staff and they did a lot of work. I think they vowed to never let that happen again. She was tough. There were Indian people who didn’t always like what she did but she got things done.

I think the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) the Minneapolis School Board has with the Native community is historic and a step in the right direction. I believe Indian education is working very hard to work with the community to meet the ideals of the MOA. I also believe the work PIE is doing to keep the MOA out in the forefront is important.

In the United States I think the tribal college movement is probably the best example of a long standing indigenous education movement that has brought about positive change. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been good K-12 programs but we often operate on soft money so they come and go.

What works with Indian kids? What advice would you give to a person who has little or no experience working with indigenous youth to become more effective in the classroom?

Educators who work with Native students need to first establish a relationship with the students and their families because we’re very relational people. If you don’t do that you’re not going to have rapport with our kids. My feeling has always been that each kid should have an individualized learning plan. Kids aren’t all the same. You’re going to have kids coming in at different levels of acculturation. You’re going to have kids that are coming in with different kinds of life experience that has either limited them or traumatized them or given them more opportunity. You’re going to have the full range of that.

To ask, how do you teach Indian kids, for me at the college level it was really important to always start my course with ceremony. Every time I taught we smudged and we did talking circle, no matter what the course was. If it was Sociology, if it was Intro to Drugs and Alcohol, if it was an Indian Studies course, we always started that way. It was important to assume the best about each student, not the worst, and to assume that they bring gifts and strengths. Believe in them and never give up on them. Even students that left us, would come back. They’re happy to see you because you didn’t give up on them. I never give up on them. I still believe they’re going to succeed even if they leave school before they finish. They’re part of my community and I have a vested interest in them succeeding, however that may be. Working with kids I think you have to find out what are their passions and try to incorporate that into the coursework, regardless of the subject. If somebody is better able to express themselves through art, then figure out a way that they can work that into their work. Some may be really talented in writing, some may have interest in doing things through technology. When I teach I try to teach to multiple learning styles. Some times students don’t even know how they learn best but throughout the course they discover it.

I think self-awareness has to be part of Native education. In every course there should be some self-exploration, some personal growth opportunities. Regardless of what I was teaching, we always had opportunity to reflect on how this affects us as Indigenous people and how does this pertain to me. They always found out that there were connections they didn’t even know existed. I always tried to make things relevant. In Sociology, which could have been really boring because there is a lot of memorization, we had a lot of fun. I had them do all kinds of interesting things to observe social issues and happenings. One of the activities I had them do, when we were talking about economics and how money oppresses certain communities, was to have them work in groups to create a budget for a single mom who made $8 an hour. She had to pay rent, transportation, get groceries, worry about health care, etc. They worked and they figured out how this mom could survive because many of them had been there. Some still were. It was definitely relevant to their lives and to the sociological topic.

It was the same in International Relations, students often thought “what does this have to do with us.” It has everything to do with them. They learned folks in other countries, especially Indigenous peoples, have experienced the same things as your people have. I would bring in international speakers who would talk to the students about their experience as well as folks from the International Treaty Council. They always emphasized “You need to know this as a citizen of a sovereign nation.” We need to always try to figure out a way to make the topics relevant to students’ lives.

Joe: It’s interesting that again we’re talking about relationships, a different kind of relationship that’s not so much interpersonal but international.

Roxanne: I always tried to get students to examine, whatever was presented to them, critically. I always ask them to question, from whose perspective is this, whose perspective is left out and what is the message here? Who does it benefit? We always talked about the impact of colonization. I think that’s really important for Native students to know this because it’s created havoc in our lives for hundreds of years. We as Indigenous colonized are the only ones that can change it. So in class we would look at the impact of colonization and then we would talk about the decolonization projects that have developed to reverse the negative impact of colonization. If we were in International Relations, we would look at international indigenous organizations like the International Treaty Council that do decolonization work. If we were in American Indian Governance and Policy, we would look at organizations like NCAI and so on. Students would have to do research and present their decolonization project to the class so we could all learn from their research. At that moment students became teachers and the rest of us were their students. In my classes everyone was a teacher and everyone was a student.

I often had the students work in groups. There’s pros and cons to that because some students put in more effort and others don’t. What I generally found is that those who had lower skills increased their skills and those that have good skills increased their skills and knowledge also. It helped students to feel less conscious about what they were doing, more willing to participate.

Joe: I think that it’s good that it’s not always about who is producing the most quantifiable work. The others are contributing in ways that we cannot necessarily measure or quantify but it’s not to discount what they have contributed.

Roxanne: Absolutely.

Joe: In those groups you’re also building in some kind of experience instead of just passively being a recipient.

Roxanne: The beauty of working in the Phillips neighborhood when I was working at the college was this community is so rich. I could have Suzanne Koeplinger walk over from the American Indian Women’s Resource Center and talk about women’s issues or sexual trafficking or whatever. Clyde or Vernon Bellcourt or Bill Means would come over and talk about the American Indian Movement. Susan Power would do a reading or Joe Horse capture would talk about traditional Minnesota Native art, etc. It is such rich community. We have writers and artists and activists and scholars. We’re very fortunate.

In terms of what’s needed, I think leadership is really important. I think you need leadership that understands the deeper issues and culture but you also need leadership that’s knowledgeable about the work, and is strategic, courageous, and willing to take a stand. They have to be willing to advocate for the community.

Recommended Books

Genocide of the Mind, Mary Jo Moore, Nation Books. This is an eclectic book, some of it is creative writing, some of it is scholarship. It’s a collection of Native peoples writings. I bought the book because one of my friends and colleagues, Neil McKay, has a chapter in here called “Spirit of Language.” There’s stuff on mascots, a lot of good stuff on language.

Red Pedagogy, Sandy Grande. Rowman and Littlefield Press. This is one of the best analyses of the miseducation of Indians in this country. It’s the best I’ve ever read. Again, it’s from a critical theory perspective. The question I find the most profound in here is when she asks, “Can a democracy be built on the bloody shores of genocide?”

Collected Wisdom, Thomas D. Peacock. Allyn & Bacon. No longer in print. This is really more for non-Native teachers of Native students. It’s very good. Tom really looks at this from a critical scholarship perspective. He’s become more outspoken in his elderhood. He’s a brilliant Native scholar. He spoke recently at a gathering I was at on leadership. He talked about how research shows that if we don’t get over this kind of pedagogy of the oppressed phenomenon, the crabs in a bucket phenomenon, if we don’t begin to look at how we participate in our own oppression and sometimes oppress our own, we’ll cease to exist as a people. That’s a pretty strong statement. One we as a people should think about. His whole career in research has been dedicated to Native education.

Joe: That’s why when we have groups I’m always making the point that part of the cost of doing business together as Natives or as a community is that we all get to contribute, we don’t have to agree. We need to all share our opinions honestly and we can’t do that if we’re afraid to disagree.

Roxanne: We need to air our differences privately, not publicly. Those in power can say, see, I told you. They can’t get along, we have to take it over.

Power and Place: Indian Education in America, Vine DeLoria, Jr. & Daniel R. Wildcat, Fulcrum Publishing. This one gets at how we educate our young people to be indigenous in a contemporary society. This is a good one.

For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook, Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, Michael Yellow Bird, School of American Research. This basically gets at that whole impact of colonization on various aspects of our lives and what can we do to change that.

Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age, Michael Apple, Routledge. This is really good book. It’s written by Michael Apple, he’s Jewish, and he has been a leading mentor to the Maoris. He’s at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He’s a well known critical scholar. I particularly like this book because we’re always battling issues of what counts as official knowledge, whose knowledge is going to be taught? For indigenous people, it’s how do we get the empire out of the center of our world? How do we make that the standard by which we measure all things?

Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Linda Tuhiwai Smith. One of the most powerful books examining why indigenous people need to participate in research and what we’re coming up against. She calls it, “the empire writes back”. For her, it’s like a teenage child who needs to express their independence to their parents so they talk back. She talks about how we’ve been misresearched and researched to death in horrible ways. She talks about ways we can participate in our own community’s research, and talks about research protocols. This is an excellent book.

Reclaiming Indigenous Voice & Vision, Marie Battiste, UBC Press. She’s the editor. This book addresses research, post-colonial ghost dancing, Kaupapa Maori research, protecting and respecting indigenous knowledge, maintaining aboriginal languages, identity and culture. There’s wonderful scholars contributions in there.

Indigenous Educational Models for Contemporary Practice: in our Mother’s Voice, edited by Maenette K.P. Nee-Benham, Joanne E. Cooper. A lot of this was done in Hawaii. This book has mostly Hawaiian educators who contributed the chapters. Their educational movement started after the Maoris. Darrell Kip from Blackfeet is in here too. It looks at indigenous education through indigenous cosmology. It’s interesting because the Hawaiian educational movement has made some tremendous strides. The advantage for them is that they’re an island. They’re considered exotic by tourists, which helped the Hawaiian language to be declared the official language by the state. The language revitalization effort has gone much better there.

We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know, Gary Howard, Teachers College Press. He’s the director of the REACH foundation. REACH has been around for many years. I used to be a REACH trainer. This is a good book for anybody but particularly for white teachers in multi-racial schools. It talks about the whole idea of white privilege and whiteness and the impact that it has on how we think about things and how we teach. It’s a very honest discussion those issues. Gary is a white guy but his whole career has been dedicated to multi-cultural education. I like this book.

Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy of Love, Antonia Darder, Westview Press. This book is so powerful. Antonia has her doctorate in education and has been on the faculty of various colleges throughout the country. This is an incredible book. She studied under Paula Frerie. I love it because it does such a fabulous job of deconstructing our educational system and the issue of power relations.

The Art of Critical Pedagogy: Possibilities for Moving from Theory to Practice in Urban Schools, Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade, Peter Lang Publishing. I love this book. It’s one of my new favorites. The author talks about our kids, how we can make a difference in their lives. He talks about critical pedagogy as a whole different way of teaching where everybody is a learner, everybody is a teacher in the classroom and teachers are more like coaches and guides. Students learn how to decode what’s problematic in their lives and how they can become active agents of change in the community instead of feeling powerless over the circumstances around them.