May 25, 1997 in City

Professor Leads Native Curriculum WSU Instructor, A Skokomish Tribal Member, Seeks To Improve Fortunes Of Indian Students

By The Spokesman-Review
 

In the Northwest’s native communities, the earth was a classroom and every adult was a teacher expected to pass along vital information.

A Washington State University professor is hoping his new initiative will help teachers embrace cultural elements of learning that were lost in the last century of institutionalized education.

The American Indian Education Initiative is the brainchild of Michael Pavel, a Skokomish tribal member who was recruited by WSU’s College of Education three years ago from UCLA.

The project is a collaborative effort with tribal communities to improve college recruitment and retention of Indian students, offer more scholarships and provide professional training for teachers and staff who work with Indian children.

“This is a concerted effort on the part of the College of Education to develop a center of scholarship, service and learning for Indian education,” said Pavel. “We need to take it to another echelon.”

Boosting WSU’s efforts is last week’s announcement of $22.2 million in grant money from the Kellogg Foundation to help colleges and universities create more learning opportunities for Indian students. The money, while targeted primarily at 30 Indian-controlled colleges, also impacts mainstream institutions enrolling large numbers of American Indian students.

Pavel is laying the groundwork for WSU to become such an institution. He’s been meeting with local tribal leaders this spring, discussing their most pressing educational needs.

Linguistic differences, geographic isolation and poverty continue to challenge Indian students’ ability to get a quality education. Western teaching methods and measures often fly in the face of traditional native culture.

More training of tribal members as counselors, coaches, teachers and administrators is one of the tribes’ most frequent requests, said Carla Schafer, dean for development at Northwest Indian College, a two-year community tribal college on the Lummi reservation near Bellingham.

“The tribes have told us they really want to be able to train teachers for their children,” said Schafer. “That’s where WSU was able to step in first.”

WSU’s initiative establishes a joint four-year teacher preparation program with the Northwest Indian College. The program, funded in part with a four-year, $819,000 grant announced by the Kellogg Foundation last week, will allow training of teachers on-site at the reservation. Participants walk away with a transcript of WSU-accredited courses. WSU and the college are jointly hiring a director for the program, which starts in the fall.

“The problems and expense of creating a special college of education is very big,” Schafer said. “So the resources of WSU are now available to our faculty, and some of their faculty will be available to work with our faculty and students.”

On-site teacher training may help narrow the cultural gaps between what teachers do and what communities need, Pavel said.

For example, too few non-Indian teachers attend tribal events, and too few Indian parents are involved with parent-teacher associations and conferences.

“We are not simply saying teachers need to be out in native communities but that native communities need to come into the schools as well.”

Tribes say they want to see more native culture addressed across the curriculum, including the teaching of tribal history, sovereignty and selfsufficiency.

Infusing Indian culture into institutionalized education is an about-face from past government policies prohibiting native language and traditions in the boarding and mission schools Indian children were required to attend.

Children were “forcibly removed” from their families and placed in federal and church-run schools until the 1960s and ‘70s as part of government assimilation efforts, said Charlanne Quento, tribal education department director for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Those efforts made a lasting impact on tribal families.

“I think we think we have to overcome a history of negative influences of institutionalized education. Many of our families went through that here and will not or cannot speak their language,” Quento said. “We have parents and grandparents who still haven’t gotten over that experience and one of the major obstacles is letting them heal from that negative education experience and move on to a positive one. That’s also why we are very careful about who we invite to participate in that.”

The tribe turns down numerous invitations from universities and consultants to participate in programs, Quento said. They said yes to WSU because it is a local, land-grant institution that specializes in agriculture, forestry, wildlife and other areas of tribal interest. But also because Pavel approached the tribe “honorably and respectfully.”

“He was speaking the same language, and his vision was the same,” Quento said. “This is the first time I have heard a university share the same vision, so we said, ‘Sure, join us.’ We do get other universities and colleges who want to use our information and statistics for their own purposes. But I don’t think he does.”

Pavel, who grew up on a reservation, has been trained since age 13 in the traditional Southern Puget Salish culture. He regularly practices the tribe’s language, traditions, rituals, history and ceremonial way of life.

His awareness of how to best communicate with tribal leaders is one advantage Pavel has over most academics.

“‘What do you want from us?’ is the question I get a lot,” Pavel said. “They will always be suspicious until you stand in front of them and meet with them in the traditional way.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SOME STATISTICS In 1993 the Bureau of Indian Affairs and federally recognized tribes with BIA funding operated 170 elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Among the 80,893 public schools in the United States, 1,244 had an American Indian/ Alaska native student enrollment of at least 25 percent. About 85 percent of the students in BIA/tribal schools and 56 percent of students in public schools with high Indian enrollment were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Approximately one-third of Indian students in BIA tribal schools spoke a language other than English in their homes. During the 1993-94 school year, 74,842 principals administered publicly funded schools in the U.S. And 47 percent of the BIA/tribal school principals were Indian.

Source: A 1993-1994 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

This sidebar appeared with the story: SOME STATISTICS In 1993 the Bureau of Indian Affairs and federally recognized tribes with BIA funding operated 170 elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Among the 80,893 public schools in the United States, 1,244 had an American Indian/ Alaska native student enrollment of at least 25 percent. About 85 percent of the students in BIA/tribal schools and 56 percent of students in public schools with high Indian enrollment were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Approximately one-third of Indian students in BIA tribal schools spoke a language other than English in their homes. During the 1993-94 school year, 74,842 principals administered publicly funded schools in the U.S. And 47 percent of the BIA/tribal school principals were Indian.

Source: A 1993-1994 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Research and Improvement.


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