Cultural Integration: An Experience of Cultural Restoration

The following is a chapter in the book Ancient Wisdon, Modern Science. The chapter is co-authored by NWIC President Cheryl Crazy Bull and three staff members.

Northwest Indian College (NWIC), chartered by the Lummi Nation has its main campus on the Lummi homelands in the northwest corner of Washington with extended campus sites at other locations in Washington and Idaho. After serving as a two year degree granting institution for nearly 25 years, NWIC recently became a candidate for accreditation at the baccalaureate degree granting level. The first degree program chosen for implementation is the Native Environmental Science (NES) Bachelor’s of Science. This NES BS degree has two tracks – one in environmental science with an emphasis of basic environmental science proficiency and the other an interdisciplinary concentration program. The concentration is a more flexible but equally rigorous track that requires students to select a specific topic for study. The concentration allows students to design an individualized program of study mentored by a committee.

In the context of developing and delivering the curriculum associated with this degree, NWIC faculty and administrators expanded allocation of resources toward cultural integration within the context of our mission: Through education, NWIC promotes indigenous self-determination and knowledge. NWIC institutional cultural outcomes designed by faculty and academic administrators with input from students and the tribal community are:

Students will demonstrate an understanding of:

* Sense of place
* What it is to be a people

Sharon Kinley, Director of the Coast Salish Institute and a Native Studies faculty member at Northwest Indian College shares the vision of cultural integration at NWIC and in particular for the Native Environmental Science Program:

I believe that we are performing acts of decolonization by giving our students access to their tribal knowledge. We are adding experiences and knowledge back rather then taking something away from our students or leaving a vacant space. We are helping students relearn their personal and community history. We are helping them regain their connections to the land.

Historical Experience

NWIC has a long history of examination, practice, and use of cultural integration strategies. Noteworthy to this discussion is the programming associated with the National Science Foundation funded Tribal Environmental Natural Resource Management Program (TENRM) and Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP). These programs developed a strong foundation of cultural learning, faculty development and instructional resources that lend themselves to our current academic programs and instructional strategies.

The TENRM program provided a unique cohort based learning community educational model integrating values and perspectives of tribal people with an environmental studies program. Interdisciplinary thematic courses, team-teaching, a non-abandonment policy in support of student success and research were all part of the TENRM program. TCUP expanded the fundamental principles of the TENRM program of integrating native perspectives and western knowledge to include basic skills development. An emphasis on core first year experience activities occurred with TCUP. Both programs provide a solid foundation of environmental education, inclusion of native knowledge, and collaborative teaching and learning practices that inform the College’s NES program.

Context for Discussion

Our approach for this discussion is to examine the expectations, experiences and responsibilities of the major participants in cultural integration: (1) Native faculty, (2) cultural resource people, (3) non-Native faculty and (4) students. We also share the experiences of the academic leadership of the college as they promote and evaluate cultural integration strategies. Following this discussion, we provide recommendations and advice for administrators and faculty of other tribal colleges as well as other higher education institutions involved in cultural integration. Research associated with the development of this chapter also aided NWIC in developing its next steps as we continue our path of full cultural integration.

Cultural integration can be an elusive descriptor of the teaching and learning experience both from the faculty and student perspectives at a tribal college. There are constraints on cultural education. These constraints are primarily the result of the natural limitations of time and opportunity as well as the philosophical intentions of tribal people in their willingness to share indigenous knowledge in formal educational settings.

Identification of what is cultural integration is a developing understanding gained over time by both students and staff. Surface cultural integration, for example, might be a class in the techniques of basketry or song and dance whereas deep cultural integration would be the study of the teachings associated with all aspects of weaving or of the songs and dances that are being taught. Symbolism and meaning are the source of learning in the deep culture experience.

The leadership of NWIC including the President is influenced in their beliefs about cultural integration by the writings of Vine Deloria, Jr., Elizabeth Cook-Lynn and Linda Tuwahi Smith in their many discussions of the role of Native Studies. This in turn influences the institutional climate and practices pertaining to cultural integration. Faculty are especially influenced by individual, contemporary Native scholars such as Daniel Wildcat, Gregory Cajete and Billy Frank, Jr.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, New Indian Old Wars, (University of Illinois, 2007) discusses the vital necessity of empowerment as the basis of Indian Studies research, curriculum and instruction. The experience of empowerment for NWIC students will arise out of the focus on indigenousness and sovereignty – concepts that Cook-Lynn says inform the experiences of tribal societies, influence the interpretation of those experiences and our evaluation of those experiences. Our oral traditions and our sense of place are not mythology – they are the knowledge that describes our origins and our specific human experiences as tribal people.

Like all tribal colleges, NWIC’s purposes include providing students with a solid “western” education, exposing them to relevant information that ensures their capability to perform in jobs in their chosen professions. For our purposes, we define “western” education as that which is derived from the knowledge and experiences of mainstream society and which is intended to help us navigate that society particularly in the job market. Jobs in the tribal environmental stewardship fields such as fisheries, natural resources, environmental protection and forestry require a well balanced education with effective native-based and technical skills. Our graduates must be able to protect our resources in the context of tribal sovereignty and protection of cultural knowledge while managing resources in the context of contemporary systems.

Cultural Learning

The intention of cultural integration is, of course, to promote cultural learning so the student can not only gain western knowledge but most importantly become more grounded in and knowledgeable of tribal teachings. To this end, faculty and administrators at NWIC have identified ways in which cultural learning can occur in our academic programs and courses:

1) Through the opportunity to practice cultural experiences such as going fishing or clamming, speaking before elders, or walking in the forests.

2) Through studying a topic of tribal interest such as lab experiences that focus on the student’s place – land, water, and climate. Instructors identified that the ability to work with students in their contemporary place allows non-native faculty to participate with cultural integration without having to acquire extensive historical knowledge.

3) Through assisting the student in “capturing” and integrating their own experiences such as fishing, tribal rights issues and socio-economic experiences within their educational experience at NWIC. This process validates the student’s cultural knowledge and practices, an important aspect of the NWIC mission. It also has the additional outcome of helping students understand the different ways that tribal people teach, acquire and maintain tribal knowledge.

4) Through the use of written materials published as the result of research in and about tribes and tribal communities. Faculty feel that is important and necessary to recognize that there are many native and non-native writers who have produced materials of value to student learning.

Cultural integration at NWIC is part of our understanding that culture is a multi-layered experience and that exploration of culture in a structured educational environment is an imperfect and incomplete experience. We also recognize that what is taught matters particularly in aspects of deep culture such as relationships with creation, family relationships, and traditional spiritual knowledge. In Coast Salish and other Pacific Northwest tribal communities, spiritual, private and family knowledge are not taught in institutional settings without explicit permission. Non-Native faculty (or even Native people not from Coast Salish cultures) with no or limited understanding of how sharing occurs in a tribal community are often unsure of how to navigate through or respond to this situation.

From the student perspective issues of diversity of tribal affiliation could be a consideration when instructors strive for cultural integration in their courses. Sometimes, students are unsure of how a particular learning experience informs their education as a citizen of a particular tribal nation. Both faculty and students benefit from the ability to make connections across tribal place-based knowledge. NWIC faculty and academic leadership consider it an important student outcome to develop the ability to interpret local place-based learning to their own tribal and personal experience.

Spontaneous Cultural Integration

Faculty identified that the most successful cultural integration from their perspective occurred spontaneously in the classroom and in the field from the students through the students’ prior knowledge and through the connections that students make in their learning. Students generate connections between their life knowledge and the course content. The same experience can occur when a cultural resource person or Native faculty member makes a connection in conversation or an educational setting about a STEM topic.

It appears that the success of spontaneous integration hinges on two factors: (1) student and instructor understanding of course materials and content and (2) extent to which the instructor can facilitate a discussion that is redirected due to the spontaneous integration experience. Students and faculty also identify openness as essential – student’s openness to see the connection between the subject and their own lives and faculty member’s openness to help student identify the relevancy of the knowledge to the students’ lives.

Students will vary as to the extent to which they can individually focus their cultural knowledge on either surface or deep culture integration. A deep understanding of course content is important to the experience of spontaneous integration because the instructor must then be able to draw out the connections that students are making and then must be able to use the integration activity as a means of teaching the materials.

Faculty at NWIC identified that knowing when to let students teach is an important skill for a teacher in the classroom where spontaneous integration occurs. An instructor must also develop the ability to recognize when he has reached a point of discomfort with his ability to participate with both planned and spontaneous integration. This ability is deeply rooted in self-reflection and in the willingness of faculty as discussed throughout this chapter.

Planned Cultural Integration

The most commonly identified form of cultural integration is planned integration. This occurs in two primary settings – the classroom and in field-based experiences. Classroom based experiences are generally pre-identified by the instructor and are described in the course syllabus or outline. Typically they are also included in the instructor’s course assessment. Field-based experiences are especially available in science courses. They are also generally pre-identified as part of the course outline. Distinctive place-based experiences reliant upon local cultural resources and materials are often a part of formal cultural integration assignments and projects in courses. Cultural resources could include people, environmental resources and activities, and traditional knowledge.

According to NWIC faculty, access to cultural resource people and availability of related cultural instructional materials are important keys to successful planned integration. Because the majority of STEM faculty at NWIC are not Native, they don’t have ready access to cultural knowledge either through experience or education. This cultural knowledge can be either historic or contemporary. In other words, it can be knowledge of how the past informs contemporary education or it can be use of the contemporary environment to connect with traditional knowledge. In any case, non-native faculty generally must learn their cultural knowledge with Native people using both oral tradition and written materials. Different approaches to this type of learning exist and are often an area of uncertainty for faculty. The dearth of available cultural resource people (with content specific knowledge) as well as written and media resources usually means that the instructor must both research and design cultural integration assignments.

Another factor in successful planned integration is the willingness and ability of the faculty member. An instructor at NWIC must be able to identify and integrate materials often with minimal access to cultural experts in the STEM fields. Most cultural resource experts have expertise in social sciences such as history and government and with human services. Either the instructor on their own or with the help of others who are knowledgeable about the community must find people with environmental, natural resources, marine science, ecological or other science knowledge or they must find other non-native faculty with expertise. There is no easy path for the instructor who usually must extend considerable effort to find informants who can assist with curriculum development or can “team-teach” at appropriate times.

Also because most faculty at NWIC are not trained in the teaching professions (as is true of most faculty who are not teacher educators at other tribal colleges and mainstream institutions), there is no guarantee that a faculty member knows how to design and/or revise curriculum. Often faculty members teach in their content area based on their own prior college experience or with minimal faculty development regarding curriculum strategies. The ability of faculty to write curriculum is enhanced at NWIC through various curriculum writing projects and through faculty development focused on teaching and learning strategies.

Cultural integration in courses is usually generated by faculty desiring an improved and more meaningful educational experience for Native students. Prior to recent developments in assessment and outcomes work at NWIC, faculty strived to integrate native knowledge and experiences through programs such as TENRM and through faculty development opportunities.

Current institutionally supported activities to help instructors with planned integration include:

1) Mini-immersions: three to five faculty members works in teams to participate in immersion activities overseen by the native faculty in the Coast Salish Institute. This strategy was identified by academic administrators as an approach that both provided access to cultural resources and assisted the “ability” aspect of faculty in the NES program.

2) Place-based field trips: these opportunities for students and faculty usually associated with a class are team-taught by Native and non-native faculty with community members sharing their cultural knowledge, inclusive of elders and with a Native language speaker providing instruction throughout the process.

3) Institutional, program and course outcomes: outcomes ensure an institutional focus on student knowledge, skills and abilities and in particular provide a framework for cultural outcomes. Institutional cultural outcomes are focused on both student and faculty competencies. The two college-wide NWIC outcomes are – To be a People and a Sense of Place.

Although not yet completely developed, related cultural outcomes for the NES program are:

Leadership and Effectiveness: Students will be able to…

a. Articulate the diversity in spirituality, culture and language.

b. Articulate their own identity in terms of a sense of place and their people.

c. Demonstrate knowledge of Native American and other models of leadership.

d. Demonstrate effective leadership skills.

4) Modern and historic Native Experience: NWIC has a teaching and learning initiative funded from multiple sources to support faculty development and continuous improvement. In particular the Woksape Oyate (Intellectual Capacity) Initiative has a Modern and Historic Native Experience component that enhances the foundational knowledge of faculty about native students and communities. Resources from the programs provided by this activity provide instructors with increased access for integration. For example, a recent workshop on modern issues of Indian identity and population change included a review of available web-based resources from organizations such as the National Museum of American Indians and the National Congress of American Indians.

5) Shared strategies among instructors: Faculty also have numerous opportunities to share their integration activities. A few examples of cultural integration in STEM courses are:

a. Zoology: study of local fauna in the Lummi Peninsula which is the traditional homelands of the Lummi people

b. Ethno-botany: study of the medicinal properties of traditional plants

c. Chemistry: study of alcohol properties and their impact on family and individual health in tribal communities; chemical properties of fabric dyes for weaving and sewing projects

Influences on the cultural integration experience

NWIC has a clear mission statement emphasizing tribal self-determination and knowledge. The College’s strategic plan, institutional, program and course outcomes, program development and assessment processes all intentionally focus on tribal identity and cultural understanding. Considerable institutional resources including expanded staffing and services in the Coast Salish Institute are devoted to building our institutional capacity to teach Native Studies and provide cultural integration. The Coast Salish Institute in particular seeks to build instructional resources and programming in support of Lummi and Coast Salish languages and culture.

We also emphasize our place-based mission by providing course work that is adaptable to the different tribal locations we serve. For example, Ecology of the First People is a core NES course developed to teach students about the origin of their own people from an environment perspective including where they emerged, their relationships to the natural environment’ and their relationships to each other. It includes developing an understanding of the inherent rights and responsibilities that emerge from their place of origin. This course then is very adaptable to the location and teachings of our tribal sites in areas such as treaties, acquired rights, political history, and origin stories. It is a very place-based course.

The location of the majority of NWIC’s campuses along the coast of the Puget Sound provides a unique opportunity for cultural integration focused on the sea and its river tributaries. While there are many cultural resource people and research projects associated with marine environment and ecosystems, there are limitations in our capacity to easily translate practical and everyday knowledge into academic courses and assignments. The ability of native resource people to connect culture across diverse subject matter is a factor in the timely development of culturally integrated materials and assignments. The development of trusting relationships among native and non-native faculty and resource people is a foundational experience contributing to successful integration support. Development and maintenance of those relationships takes focus, time and effort.

Because the majority of the STEM faculty at NWIC are not Native American, often issues such as the fear of making a mistake, knowing the appropriateness of materials, or the ability to access a knowledgeable informant influence both the quantity and quality of cultural integration. Instructors identified that their own individual ability to let the student be the teacher, to be adaptable on a daily basis, and to be able to listen and know the issues faced by our students as factors determining the effectiveness of cultural integration. Each instructor is responsible for ensuring the student learns the core western knowledge expected of someone educated in the subject matter while also responding to the institutional and tribal expectation that the student’s cultural knowledge will be enhanced.

Faculty Characteristics

The following characteristics appear necessary for an instructor to successfully participate with integration experiences both in teaching and learning and in materials development:

1) responsiveness to students and the skill to read/know students of different cultures

2) readiness to integrate cultural information in both attitude and ability to integrate cultural information

3) deliberate cultivation of the ability to recognize artifacts of assimilation

4) belief in the value of and willingness to teach from a multi-disciplinary perspective

5) general knowledge base of cultural learning including American Indian history, sociology and political science

6) general knowledge base of Native science knowledge as discussed by such resources as Vine Deloria Jr., Gregory Cajete, Daniel Wildcat, and Winona LaDuke.

7)  philosophical belief in the value of both historic and contemporary native knowledge

8)  prior experience with cultural diversity, tribal communities or with alternative curricula (other then only western science based curricula)

The creation of a safe classroom and institutional climate in support of cross-cultural communication is a work-in-progress at NWIC. Students need to trust the teacher before they will feel comfortable in sharing their own prior knowledge or in exploring how their knowledge informs the course content. Instructors are challenged by the impact of the assimilation process on our understanding of tribal perspectives. Generally in tribal societies there is specific cultural knowledge possessed by individuals or held in common. Our native understanding of diversity is that it inherently occurs among tribes and not necessarily within an understanding of cultural practice.

Assimilation and cultural oppression contribute to the promotion of “diverse” views about specific tribal cultural knowledge and practice. We are constantly seeking the right balance between what native experts might know to be true about our cultural knowledge and how that that knowledge has evolved over time. Colonization impacted the natural process of knowledge acquisition and sharing in our tribal communities creating a sense of confusion among tribal people that is a challenge in the instructional process.

Readiness of students to participate in cultural learning and to regain their experience with the land is as important as the willingness and ability of the instructor to teach. Students vary as to their experiences with their culture and in the extent of their tribal identity. STEM faculty and NES students at NWIC are exploring cultural integration together.

Experience of Cultural Integration

Faculty at NWIC see themselves as consistently improving in their ability to provide culturally integrated materials, experiences and resources. The cultivation of relationships with community and students contribute to the quality of the experience. Many faculty feel that the addition of the concentration option in the NES program enhanced the opportunity for cultural integration because it has broader implications for course choices by students focused on student identification of research and learning interests. Students will need to think deeply about their own goals and work with faculty and community members to focus on those goals.

Faculty who teach the hard sciences such as chemistry, physics and biology have core knowledge that must be transmitted as a foundational experience for students. While faculty are able to integrate the students experiences into the courses (i.e. alcohol studies in chemistry, diabetes education, fish studies in biology), they still must ensure students meet the science outcomes.

Unique social and educational experiences of Native students challenges our faculty as they approach issues of academic standards, assessment and inclusiveness. Non-native faculty in particular recognize that they are “outsiders” with limited access to resources and experiences and that they must rely on their NWIC colleagues and community partners to give them practical access to community knowledge.

Students reiterate preference for the hiring of Native faculty in order to put a Native “face” on their education. We noted that students might identify culture at NWIC as a surface experience such as basket-making and often are unable to name the cultural integration occurring in their courses. Student perceptions of what is cultural integration are a concern for NWIC faculty and administrators. Students appear to also not be aware of their own prior cultural knowledge and how it serves their educational experience.

NWIC’s institutional assessment process is designed to respond to issues of cultural knowledge through the cultural outcomes and their related evaluative instruments and strategies. Instructors develop rubrics that describe effective cultural outcomes as part of the overall course assessment. Further the College is moving definitively toward the use of portfolios and demonstrations as tools to aid in assessing cultural competencies.

Next Steps and Recommendations

Building a matrix describing the relationship between the Native scholar experiences supporting Native, place-based education and the non-Native scholar participating in the same was a result of this review of our experience. This matrix frames how these two critical components of a successful integration program can interact:

Recommendations

The following recommendations are applicable across the tribal college system and are particularly focused on the NWIC experience:

Institutional Climate

The NWIC leadership identified the importance of “marketing” the experience of cultural integration to students, faculty and community. Many individuals especially students and community members do not see a connection between what they are learning and experiencing and their tribal culture and are therefore unable to name that they are participating in a culturally integrated learning experience. From an institutional perspective, we may have to deliberately name the cultural experience in order to ensure the building of connections among the personal, tribal, and institutional experiences. The practice of deliberate intention is grounded in cultural practices of tribal elders and traditional people. Two approaches for this could be (1) the implementation of cultural outcomes and (2) curriculum mapping that specifically focuses on restoration of knowledge that has been taken away through colonization.

At a tribal college there is an assumption – that the approach of cultural integration should be and is institutionalized across all curriculum and daily practice. This can be checked through examination of the content and implementation of the College’s mission, strategic plan, institutional and program outcomes, course outcomes, and assessment which need to be linked through cultural practice and intention.

Assessment: Cultural Outcomes

A cultural institutional mission is not enough to create the classroom based integration necessary to a successful tribal education experience for students. Assessment strategies including institutional, program and course cultural outcomes combined with effective evaluative strategies strengthen the institution-wide approach to cultural integration and facilitate individual commitment. This circular relationship provides students with the best opportunity for core native knowledge to be part of their core educational experience.

The interrelatedness of all aspects of the student’s education – the holistic approach – grounds faculty, staff, and institutional leaders in practices that are transferable across experiences, disciplines, and approaches to education. Participating with the student in an educational process that is holistic replicates the life experience of students which must, of necessity, be part of the whole tribal experience.

Faculty Development

As discussed earlier, deliberate approaches to the development of faculty cultural content knowledge and improving skills and abilities of faculty to teach culturally diverse students benefit the institution when conducted over an extended period of time. These strategies could include immersion experiences, presentations by speakers, videos, workshops, and conference participation. Evidence of improved instruction should be both observable and intentional. Evidence could come from surveys of teaching strategies, evidence-based review of syllabi, faculty evaluation and observation.

Training faculty on various strategies that facilitate dialogue such as Structured Controversy, Non-Violent Communication, Conversation-based Engagement, Deliberative Dialogue and various mediation, narrative or story-telling strategies can contribute to the ability of faculty to identify and foster integration experiences.

Understanding of assimilation and colonization and their impacts on people as well as a broad understanding of Native history contribute to improved abilities and participation with student learning. Role-playing and simulations, training by specialists in race relations and reconciliation, readings and media events, faculty discussions and exploration of materials and their experience and deeper exposure to community are strategies to aid this understanding.

Tribal colleges should also continue to deliberately develop the next generation of Native faculty and leaders who have core knowledge and deep bonding with their place and their people. This training of emerging faculty and leaders requires an institutional investment in both formal education and access to cultural resources.

Training for Cultural Resource people

Individuals who serve as cultural resources to STEM faculty benefit from exposure to educational methodologies and curriculum development skills. This helps them understand how information can be presented for easy access by faculty and creates stronger links between content knowledge and cultural knowledge.

Library and Instructional Resources

Dedicated effort is required for sufficient institutional resources to be devoted to acquisition of Native Science and Native Studies materials for individual faculty and student use. Annotated bibliographies are a useful tool for faculty especially if generated by Native resource people knowledgeable of the requirements of cultural integration – subject matter, accessibility, integrity of the research and information, and appropriateness relative to institutional course requirements.

NWIC has an annotated bibliography of the Lummi people as part of a Coast Salish bibliography developed by the Coast Salish Institute. This bibliography is available through the Institute.

Through the support of the Northwest Area Foundation, NWIC developed a Traditional Tribal Leadership training curriculum that is adaptable as courses, for lessons, and in workshop and community education formats. This curriculum focuses on traditional tribal understanding of leadership, fosters self-reflection and guides the participant toward the practice of leadership that is based in knowledge of inherent identity, relationships and cultural traditions. This curriculum can also serve as a model of cultural integration for faculty.

Conclusion

As the late Vine Deloria, Jr. shared in his book, Power and Place: Indian Education In America, written with Daniel Wildcat (Fulcrum Publishing, 2001):

Education in the traditional setting occurs by examples and not as a process of indoctrination. That is to say, elders are the best living examples of what the end product of education and life experiences should be. We sometimes forget that life is exceedingly hard and that none of us accomplishes everything we could possibly do or even many of the things we intended to do.

Cultural integration at NWIC is an on-going process grounded in a long history of practice by both Native and non-Native faculty and strengthened by the commitment of the institutional leadership and community to tribal identity for students. Our mission, “Through education, Northwest Indian College promotes indigenous self-determination and knowledge” guides our efforts.

Thanks to all NWIC faculty and students who contributed ideas for the content of this chapter.

Authors:
Cheryl Crazy Bull, President
Sharon Kinley, Director, Coast Salish Institute
John Rombold, Science Faculty
Ted Williams, Academic Programs Coordinator

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