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Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
In 2009, authors Ilarion Merculieff and Libby Roderick participated in the second of two higher education projects sponsored by the Ford Foundation’s national Difficult Dialogues initiative. This project was designed to “turn the tables” on traditional academic professors so that Alaska Native people would become their own teachers (iii). This book, Stop Talking, tells the story of the second project, laid out in a format that parallels the experience gained in a faculty immersion workshop with Alaska Native teachers, followed by an ongoing community of inquiry (chapters 1-5). The final chapters show the nature of change in pedagogy designed by faculty participants for one academic year and the assessment of the entire project, reflections, and strategies for changing higher education through indigenization (chapters 6 and 7).
The goal of this project was to instill deeper understanding of traditional indigenous worldviews, issues, and pedagogies by fostering respect for different ways to be teachers and learners (x). Sixteen faculty members participated in experimenting with Native ways of teaching and learning and introducing “difficult dialogues” regarding Alaska Native concerns during a week-long intensive workshop. The flow of the intensive time together is outlined in the first four chapters.
The format for teaching during the workshop included much silence, a slower pace, and no note-taking. Learning occurred by non-verbally internalizing that which was important because words, in the Aleut tradition, are considered a constraint on intelligence, getting in the way of living in the present; therefore, ground rules for the intensive workshop included paying attention to being part of a whole through deep connection, often wordless, thereby making one a “real human being.” Participants learned that Native pedagogies occur out of teaching practices such as slowing down to be in relationship with each other and the Earth, close observation and emulation, use of all senses in silence, storytelling, dance, and games. Participants used these practices throughout the week during daily workshops, and were invited to think about the courses they normally teach in light of such practices. The difficult conversation topics followed later in the week, when faculty participants began to deal with the institutional racism and the Western methodology of science and research used in institutions that ignores or devalues Native ways of learning and teaching.
During the intensive, faculty began to integrate the particularity of their course material with a wider, deeper pedagogy. Afterward, the group agreed to meet monthly for one academic year to continue their community of inquiry. They conducted formal assessment of their work, and engaged in deep reflection together.
Roderick’s call to this indigenizing of higher education is important: “If we can do these two things – learn from these ancient cultures fresh ways of approaching the tasks of learning while simultaneously working to overthrow the ongoing legacy of colonization that still plagues modern indigenous peoples – we will have accomplished a great deal” (ix). Indeed, such work is essential for equitable, deep education. This work is our future. This book, filled with story and wisdom, is our guide.
Indigenous Leadership in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Excellence is seldom achieved alone. These words express one of the major themes of Indigenous Leadership in Higher Education, edited by Robin Starr Minthorn and Alicia Fedelina Chávez. Consisting of autobiographical narratives, the editors and contributors weave a blanket of experiences and guiding principles which illustrate and encourage the involvement of Indigenous leaders throughout the academy. Many of the narratives begin in the traditional manner with the authors situating themselves within their maternal and paternal lines, recognizing the interconnectedness of the present to the past in order to lead future generations well. That sense of community permeates the various narratives, weaving a thread into the blanket of colors that blends the experiences and insights into what constitutes Indigenous leadership.
This blend of narratives is most evident in the second and the final chapters, in which the editors succinctly gather individual contributors’ words and correlate them to particular themes that serve as a wheel of knowledge in chapter two and summarize potential methods for incorporation into higher education in the final chapter. In chapter two, “Collected Insights,” the editors provide a wheel of four major components of what constitutes Indigenous leadership. The last chapter highlights approaches and philosophies, strategies, academics, and means of working with students to promote and encourage leadership for Indigenous peoples. While it may be tempting to read just these two chapters because of the breadth contained therein, the narratives themselves expand on one or more of the dimensions discussed in these two chapters.
One of the major themes is that Indigenous leadership is communal rather than a solo endeavor; Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy writes that “Indigenous leadership requires individuals to see themselves as part of a unified whole” (53). In chapter two, the editors provide other examples that demonstrate the importance of connection to the community through its elders and the people for whom one serves.
Even though most of the narratives are directed toward Indigenous leadership in higher education, many of the principles can be applied to all persons in the academy. The narratives help educators rethink how to provide opportunities for all students to grow in wholeness and wisdom, not just knowledge of facts.
Among the qualities the editors describe as “what we strive to embody,” (17) qualities that may resonate with all Indigenous persons, for me, one is clearly lacking. As a Native Hawaiian, I would include gratefulness. While this quality may be imbedded in the concepts of generosity, humility with confidence, and spirituality, I found few expressions of gratitude within the narratives. This disconcerted me because it is inconsistent with what I learned from my kupuna, my Elders. I would hope that, while this embodiment is not expressly evident in the narratives, it is part of their respect for the Elders who have wrapped them in the blankets of experience and provided them with the warmth that enabled them to be Indigenous leaders.