“When You Come in This House, You Speak Mohawk”

The long history and hopeful future of Mohawk language revitalization is explored in a new report

By Paul Boyer

Carole Ross was born on the St. Regis Reservation and spoke Mohawk as her first language. Now retired, she previously served as the tribe’s language coordinator. Photo: Paul Boyer

Native language revitalization is often said to be a young movement. While nearly all of the nation’s indigenous languages are threatened, and dozens are now characterized as “dormant,” many tribes and Native communities are only now taking steps to reverse the loss.

On the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, however, language survival has been a priority for decades. Carole Ross, who grew up on the reservation and now teaches the language, recalls that, as a child in the 1950s, Mohawk was both widely spoken and actively protected. “When you come in this house,” her father once said, “you speak Mohawk.”

With an estimated population of 14,000, the Mohawk nation (known as Akwesasne), straddles the St. Lawrence River and includes territory in both New York and Canada. Despite its small size and fragmented boundaries, however, the reservation now supports two well-established immersion schools, numerous adult instruction programs,and policies that promote use of Mohawk throughout the community. Mohawk linguists and language teachers travel the country, serving as speakers and consultants.

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From High School to College, Micropipettors at the Ready

Research is the centerpiece of Salish Kootenai College’s new dual enrollment STEM Academy

By Andrea Panagakis, Mary Larson, and Taylir Schrock

STEM Academy students using their pipetting skills during Science Research class at Salish Kootenai College. Photo: Mary Larson

On a recent fall afternoon, a group of high school students enrolled in Salish Kootenai College’s Science Research class are bent over lab tables, deep in concentration. Their instructor, Taylir Schrock, circulates around the group. “Massage the smeg!” she urges.

The students, all participants in a unique STEM-focused dual enrollment program, know what to do. Using precision instruments called micropipettors, they mix samples of Mycobacterium smegmatis, also known as “smeg,” a bacterium that tiny viruses called bacteriophage prey upon.

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Twenty Years of NATURE

This long-running academic enrichment program is creating pathways to STEM careers for Native students in North Dakota

By Paul Boyer

In the fragile and fleeting world of education reform movements, it’s worth noting the durability and accomplishments of the NATURE program, now celebrating its twentieth anniversary.

NATURE (Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research and Education) began in 1998 as an informal collaboration between four North Dakota tribal colleges–Turtle Mountain College, Sitting Bull College, Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, and United Tribes Technical College–and the North Dakota State University.

Carol Davis

According to former Turtle Mountain College Vice President Carol Davis, the goal was to strengthen STEM education opportunities for American Indian middle school, high school, and tribal college students. “Our motivation in the beginning was to increase the number of American Indian students who would declare STEM as a major,” Davis recalled.

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Antioxidant Activity of Common Vegetables in Hawai’i

Cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella)

“Antioxidant Activity of Common Vegetables in Hawai’i” is one of three papers selected for publication as part of the Native Science Report’s 2018 student research showcase. Submitted by Shane Yaw, an undergraduate student currently enrolled at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, it analyzes the antioxidant content of several leafy vegetables, both native and introduced, that are easily grown in Hawai’i. The project was completed under the supervision of Dr. Joseph Bariyanga at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu, where Shane was previously enrolled.

A graduate of Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, Shane is majoring in biology with a minor in mathematics and plans to pursue a career in medicine. He is the oldest of seven children in what he describes as “an even larger Hawaiian/Puerto Rican family.”

Shane Yaw’s research project can be downloaded here.

FIELD NOTES: Native Science Report Blog

Partial shutdown of the federal government is producing a complete shutdown of many tribal offices; tribal leaders struggle to sustain essential services

The partial shutdown of the federal government is—for the moment–only indirectly felt by many Americans. But on the nation’s Indian reservations, where federal funding is vital for the day-to-day operation of many programs and services, the impact is sweeping.

In many communities, offices responsible for the health, welfare, and safety of tribal members are closed, facing closure, or working without funds, according our informal survey of tribal college administrators and tribal policy experts.

On the Fort Belknap Reservation of eastern Montana, Scott Friskics, director of sponsored programs at Aaniiih Nakoda College, said that many tribal offices are completely shut down. “That includes the Environmental Protection Department, Water Quality and Water Resources,” he said.

“The more I talk with folks here, the worse it sounds,” he said.

On the Lake Traverse Reservation of South Dakota, Scott Morgan, director of institutional research and programs at Sisseton Wahpeton College, also reported the imminent closure of tribal programs that depend on federal funds. “If it continues much longer, more of the tribal agencies are going to have serious funding issues and will start shutting down,” he said.

The need to maintain infrastructure and essential services means that many tribal employees are working without pay. “On the Turtle Mountain Reservation of North Dakota, “many BIA and other federal employees are still working because in the winter it does not take long for pipes to freeze, roads to close, vehicles to break down,” reported Carty Monette, retired president of Turtle Mountain Community College and a senior associate at the Tribal Nations Research Group.

Medical care is a growing concern. Tribal clinics operating under contract with the Indian Health Service depend on federal funds to keep doors open and staff paid. However, in a letter to tribal leaders, the IHS stated that, without an appropriation, it cannot pay tribes or tribal organizations contracting under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act.

“We acknowledge that this circumstance may result in insufficient funds to carry out the terms of the agreement and that the program may cease to operate,” the letter continued.

On the Turtle Mountain Reservation, Monette reported that ambulance and emergency services are still provided by IHS staff, who are working without paychecks. “But who knows how long that will last,” he said.  “It costs money beyond salaries to keep the IHS operating.”

The 183 schools run or funded by the Bureau of Indian Education are among the least affected, largely because they are forward funded. To keep other programs operating, tribes are making use of carryover or unspent funds, when available. “But like the federal agencies, this too will soon run out,” Monette said.

“The banks may make interim loans to some entities but bank cooperation is also uncertain.  The loans that may be made will for sure be at a huge interest rate,” Monette said.

Here, at last, is something that tribal leaders and President have in common: unpaid bills and empty offices. According the New York Times, the White House has stopped paying its water bill much of its staff are gone.

Peer reviewed research remains inaccessible to many scholars, argues former CEO of Creative Commons

Working is some of the nation’s most rural regions, faculty at tribal and many Native-serving colleges often feel isolated from colleagues and far from the nation’s research centers.

In theory, the internet can help erase geographic barriers by making information accessible to all. That was part of Thomas Friedman’s argument when he famously effused in 2005 that the World Wide Web was making the world “flat.”

However, the Internet is actually widening the gap between the information rich and information poor, argues Joi Ito, former CEO of Creative Commons. Many of the nation’s most important and prestigious academic journals are now kept behind increasingly expensive paywalls, making information inaccessible to all but a few.

In a recently published essay in Wired, Ito argues that “some publishers charge so much for subscriptions to their academic journals that even the libraries of the world’s wealthiest universities such as Harvard are no longer able to afford the prices.” Although much of the research is federally funded, findings remain out of reach for the public and many scholars, especially those working in non-elite institutions.

Ito looks at various efforts to break down or climb over these paywalls. Initiatives range from the Kazakhstan-based Sci-Hub, which “provides free access to millions of otherwise inaccessible academic papers” (by skirting copyright laws), to the larger Open Access movement. OA publishers include the Public Library of Science, or PLOS, which makes papers available without a paywall by imposing article processing charges (APC’s) on institutions or authors, Ito writes.

But more is needed. Ito describes his work with MIT to develop what he calls “a new open knowledge ecosystem” that allows for “greater institutional and public ownership of that infrastructure.”

The full essay can be read here.