Unseen Barriers: Tribal Colleges And Native American Education

I’m a huge proponent of education. Historically, many Europeans and Euroamericans thought Native people didn’t have education.

Many tribes may not have had the kind of formal education we have in the United States, but they damn sure had education. Tribal nations, after all, had medicine people, doctors, agricultural experts, philosophers and historians. They had education.

I’m no expert on the history of tribal education, but I was looking at various tribal colleges and schools on reservations. Many of these institutions under-perform compared to the general institutions in the United States.

That’s a shame. Which is why I have been (assuming I can work) looking for jobs at these institutions. I have a privilege, whatever else may hold me back: I have a high quality education and a fine brain. I can use these things, perhaps, to benefit tribal people.

Many tribal people today consider education to be the way out of personal and tribal poverty–a poverty which, as I have often stated, is close to “Third World” poverty.

I have raised an academically talented Choctaw daughter. I know Choctaws and other tribal people are smart. It’s just that there’s brain drain on many reservations and tribal areas. Everyone who’s anyone in academia is seeking status in their field. And tribal institutions, mostly, don’t offer that. Moreover, many tribal colleges don’t offer courses in various areas. For example, many of the tribal colleges I have looked at don’t offer philosophy as a course, as a minor or as a major–even American Indian philosophy. However, that can change.

Tribal colleges are underfunded. They don’t get the donors that not only Harvard, but my own alma mater, Stetson University, gets, partly because their alumni are not billionaires. And people who are billionaires, even if they are charitable people, often ignore tribal people and their interests and perhaps, to take a jaded view, wouldn’t even want tribal colleges to thrive.

I encourage people to look into tribal colleges; to think of them as quality places of employment. I encourage the reverse of brain drain. The brightest minds in the world should flock to tribal nations. I don’t consider myself the brightest mind, but flocking there, whatever hardships come with it, seems particularly worth it.

We have a system where, when one is given an IQ test to see if one is gifted, one gets culturally biased questions on the test. Tribal colleges often try very hard to incorporate their own histories and traditions into their coursework. These backgrounds are devalued as a whole by the larger society.

We can change these things, though. We can see tribal colleges as peers of our institutions, if we are a part of one. We can see these as thriving communities where Native culture is alive. We can encourage the billionaires we know, or even people who just have a few bucks, to donate to tribal colleges.

Tribal people deserve the very best. Let’s give it to them.


Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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