Caring, Not Competing

The meaning and relevance of indigenous economic theory

By Ronald L. Trosper

“Indians fishing at Celilo Falls.” Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast prospered because of their relationship with salmon. Source: Oregon Special Collections and Archives.

In their negotiations with Dutch, English, and French settlers, the Haudenosaunee utilized a Two-Row Wampum belt to illustrate an Indian canoe and a European ship traveling together while each pursued its own course with its own laws and religion. 

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The Soul of a Seed

Teaching agriculture at the intersection of western and Native science

By Melanie Lenart

Dried squash sits in a traditional basket woven by a Tohono O’odham basketry artist.

The longer I work at a tribal college, the more I feel it’s crucial for those of us teaching science to indigenous students to open our minds to views that stretch beyond the boundaries of western science.

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“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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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

Tribal college students feel nurtured and empowered, but also need more support, report finds

Students who attend tribally controlled colleges praise the quality of their education and the support they receive from faculty and staff, according to a new report released by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin.

At the same time, the report, “Preserving Culture and Planning for the Future: An Exploration of Student Experiences at Tribal Colleges,” highlighted the challenge of serving students in impoverished communities, where Internet access is limited and 33 percent of students worried about having enough food in the past twelve months.

Based on surveys of over 2,400 students enrolled at 22 of the nation’s tribally controlled colleges, the report found high levels of student satisfaction. Most agreed that their college provides a positive learning environment, engaged faculty, and a climate that reflects and promotes positive cultural values.

The report noted that 73 percent of entering tribal college students agreed that their college’s focus on language and culture “improves their self-image/confidence.” A similar percentage reported that their instructors knew their names, and 88 percent agreed that they feel a sense of belonging.

These levels of satisfaction and engagement exceed that of Native American students enrolled in non-tribal colleges and universities–sometimes by wide margins.

However, the report also noted that tribal colleges enroll students who are less academically prepared and require significantly more support. Sixty-seven percent of students are placed in developmental math courses, and nearly as many are enrolled in developmental reading and writing classes.

Poverty and geographic isolation also make the path to graduation more difficult. Nearly half of respondents have limited access to a computer or other electronic device at home and an equal number indicated that a “lack of reliable transportation could be a cause for withdrawal from class or the college.”

Widespread food insecurity was another worrisome finding. A quarter of students reported that they “ran out of food within the past 12 months and didn’t have money to get more.”

Tribal colleges respond by providing a wide range of support services, such as tutoring, counseling, child care, and transportation. But the colleges, which operate with less money per student than most mainstream institutions, need more support to fulfill their mandates, according Cheryl Crazy Bull, president of the American Indian College Fund.

Writing in the report’s forward, she argued that “in order to increase the number of Native students who complete college, more students need support. With continued investments from tribal colleges and additional investments from outside the colleges, this gap can be narrowed and more students can succeed.”

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

Working in 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.