Harvard Educational Review
  1. To Remain an Indian

    Lessons in Democracy from a Century of Native American Education

    By K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa L. McCarty

    New York: Teachers College Press, 2006. $70.00 (cloth), $29.95 (paper).

    In this account of enduring efforts at Indigenous self-education, K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa L. McCarty explore the “tripod” of federal educational policy, practice, and the experiences of Native people from the turn of the twentieth century to the present day. To Remain an Indian: Lessons in Democracy from a Century of Native American Education describes how Indigenous sovereignty has been both encouraged and hampered over time. The infamous 1928 “Meriam Report” provides the book’s title phrase and signals one of the earliest shifts in the federal government’s view of American Indian culture. This report called on the United States to support Native people who wanted to adopt the social and economic ways of life common to many Americans, but also those who chose to pursue a more traditional, Indigenous way of life — “to remain an Indian.”

    Lomawaima and McCarty trace other shifts in how American Indian culture is perceived, using the “safety zone theory” described in detail in the first chapter. The authors argue that efforts to infuse Indigenous cultural (e.g., artistic, religious, social, and economic) and linguistic policies and practices in schools have been allowed or disallowed based on whether such practices were deemed “safe” forms of difference by federal policies and agents. They dispute claims about “swings of the federal policy pendulum” or “contradictions” in federal policy, arguing instead that during some periods certain educational policies and practices have been deemed safe because they posed no threat to American identity or economic superiority, while at other times similar policies and practices were considered a threat and therefore perceived as unsafe.

    Another important theme in To Remain an Indian is how power is manifested in the relationship between the federal government and Indigenous communities, in schools serving Native students, and in Native communities. The authors frame the federal government’s power as an oppressive force and highlight examples of its hegemonic impact on students and community. This focus on power raises important questions about the role of schooling in forming American citizens, the enduring connections between poverty and education, and the importance of local control.

    Throughout the book, the authors’ experience with Indigenous language instruction and teacher-preparation initiatives is evident. They describe case studies that demonstrate how children placed in classrooms with early learning in a Native language consistently perform at or above the levels of similar students who are placed in limited English proficient or English-only classrooms on standardized tests. There are also stories of Native educators, such as community elders, teacher’s aides, translators, or teachers, who have had an impact in the lives of Native students and have influenced the self-education of Native peoples. The authors include rich descriptions of community-based education initiatives in the Southwest — including those in Navajo, Hualapai, and Pueblo communities — as well as in Hawaii and Alaska. They explain why many of these initiatives began at the preschool and early elementary levels, and describe several middle and high school initiatives and the development of tribal colleges and the American Indian Language Development Institute — an international teacher-preparation program.

    An in-depth discussion of the historical strengths of Indigenous education can be found in chapter 2, which is framed by a recognition of the worldviews, the ways of knowing, and the values of Indigenous communities from time immemorial. Lomawaima and McCarty move on to describe the ward status of Native people, which occurred when boarding schools were established. Only Indigenous women’s traditional arts, or “crafts” as they were called, were deemed safe because they promoted industriousness. Following the release of the Meriam Report, which condemned the boarding schools and other aspects of federal policy, Indigenous schooling appeared to become more progressive, with an increased emphasis on local control. Yet the authors argue that Native education was still business as usual in the federal government’s continuing support of vocational education and other curriculum deemed to be “safe,” while still framing Native culture as primitive. Chapter 4 ends with stories of early Native teachers who helped lay the foundation for later civil rights movements and calls for self-determination. Chapter 5 begins with a discussion about the instructional readers featuring Native language and culture developed by Bureau of Indian Affairs employees and ends with a description of the clandestine efforts Native translators made to infuse cultural values in these materials. The last few chapters trace contemporary policies and the mixed impact these policies have had on supporting Indigenous self-education, and include a section about Indigenous youth perspectives on Native language and a discussion of the high-stakes testing and standards-based movement.

    To Remain an Indian represents a unique and essential contribution because of its foundation of deep respect for Indigenous knowledge, community values, and students. It forefronts Indigenous people’s desire to steward the education of their students and to ensure the health and well-being of their communities. While it is a must-read for Indigenous scholars and educators, this book offers an important message for all educators about the impact of federal policy and the importance of local communities’ participation in education. The authors end with a quote from Luther Standing Bear (Lakota) that emphasizes the importance of Indigenous education for all Americans: “America can be revived, rejuvenated, by recognizing a [N]ative school of thought. The Indian can save America.” Lomawaima and McCarty thus remind us that the history and educational experiences of Native children and communities are a part of all of us and hold important lessons about what it will take to ensure meaningful education for everyone over the next century.

    M.V.
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    Book Notes

    Lenses on Literacy Coaching
    By Cathy Toll

    To Remain an Indian
    By K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa L. McCarty

    Self-Taught
    By Heather Andrea Williams

    Unfinished Business
    Edited by Pedro A. Noguera and Jean Yonemura Wing