Recognizing Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month, so we return to our conversation about Indigenous people as one the most underrepresented communities in higher education - particularly Native women. We discuss how higher education recognizes (and erases) Indigenous peoples, Native experiences in higher education, and what you can do to support Native people in higher education. Check out the First Nation’s Educational & Cultural Center's numerous Indigenous events and initiatives for more!

Reflect: What is the Purpose of a Land Acknowledgement?

An increasingly common practice in higher education and many academic associations is to begin gatherings with land acknowledgements, discussing tribal connections to the area upon which the group is meeting.1 Although this practice demonstrates progress the intended justice, the words in some land acknowledgements often imply that the genocide and forcible removal of Indigenous peoples is a thing of the past; in reality, settler colonialism continues to affect Native tribes, leading to disparities in access to affordable food, housing, healthcare, and education, as well as on-going loss of culture (like language). Land acknowledgements that only frame Indigenous history and experience as a thing of the past erase the lived reality of Indigenous people and their cultural beliefs of what “land” truly means. If you are thinking about doing a land acknowledgement, ask yourself how you are framing Indigenous history. Are you offering a chance for their history and stories to be told, unfiltered and in their own voice (centering the voices of those who are harmed rather than those who are in power)? Are you sharing resources to support Native thriving and success, too? For more conversation about this issue, read Dr. Len Necefer’s article in Outside.

Learn: What’s it Like to Be Native in Higher Education?

For Indigenous people in higher education, their experiences are affected by legacies of exclusion, bias, and stereotypes. Only 19% of 18-24 year old Native Americans are enrolled in college,1 with less than 50 Native students enrolled on all IU campuses. A recent national study of faculty in the top 50 research universities was sobering. Psychology had the highest representation among assistant professors (1.0%), but had no full professors. In fact, only six fields -- mathematics, mechanical engineering, economics, political science, and biology -- had any Native full professors. Among the top 50 disciplines in the physical science and engineering, only six have any Native assistant professors, indicating at least a seven-year lapse in hiring in the other 44 disciplines.2 Comparatively, IU has 28 Native faculty/staff total for all campuses - with only 4 tenure track faculty (2 of whom are full professors). Bias and invisibility are particularly impactful for Indigenous women.3 While Indigenous women are starting to view universities as safer, microaggressions and discrimination persist, particularly as perpetrators believe them to be subtle.4 These microaggressions vary, including people challenging their knowledge around Native experience/culture, being perceived as hostile when challenging erasing narratives around higher education, and the romanticization and homogenization of Native people.5 Native women who enter academia often report feeling joy in their intellectual and teaching positions, however these joys are accompanied by isolation, tokenization, and gendered/racial bias.6

Additional Resource Recommendations

  • Book:  Native Presence and Sovereignty in College – Dr. Amanda Tachine, a Navajo scholar, details the experiences of Native students in their first year of college.
  • Video: Do All Native Americans Think the Same? - This video from Spectrum features the opinions of Native Americans on issues that face the community, including blood quantum, indigenous representation, and more.
  • Article: Indigenous Perspectives on Native Student Challenges in Higher Education - Robin Zape-tah-hol-ah Minthorn discusses policies/practices in campus offices, classrooms, and beyond that can honor Native student experience and culture in higher education.
  • Podcast:  This Land – Rebecca Nagle examines how the US legal system has been used to destabilize the rights of Native Americans through the lens of one legal case surrounding the adoption of a Native Child.