By Trisha Moquino and Lynette Stant
April 3, 2020
The world of education has been plunged into turmoil due to the pandemic caused by COVID-19. Over the past few weeks, we have seen changes to the way in which teachers deliver instruction and the manner in which students “attend” school. As schools across the country turn to on-line teaching and on-line classrooms, Indigenous communities are once again being marginalized. This method of instruction further exacerbates challenges for the many Indigenous nations that do not have access to reliable broadband. Pushing it as the singular, anointed solution to “pandemic education” will only increase inequities that Indigenous youth face.
Many of the challenges that our youth face in obtaining an accessible, high quality education is not new. Before the onset of COVID-19, achievement for Native American children was already wrought with inequities. For example, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the graduation rate in 2016–2017 for Native American children was 72% compared with the national average being 85%.
These statistics are unacceptable. Schools are pushing online classrooms as a singular solution to educating children during this pandemic. Indigenous communities that experience unreliable or an entire lack of internet access need educators to seek multiplicity as a stance in how we invite additional solutions to the challenge of Indigenous education during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To do this, we must open ourselves to seeing that we are replacing one problem with another. While online learning may work for the majority in some contexts, it does not serve the needs of children living on reservations. However, with an identification of a problem, there must come the hope of a solution. Indigenous communities encompass an environment where deep and impactful learning has withstood the passing of time. Traditional tribal teachings and/or our Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) allows Indigenous students to showcase the unique project based learning that naturally happens within tribal communities. Students are able to learn from their environment and absorb the skills necessary to carry on bigger and larger projects.
We know that for millennia, Indigenous children learned and developed without school and whether or not they were assigned lessons from school and/or regardless of whether an adult or teacher was “teaching” them. By centering our own Indigenous teachings, education transcends classroom walls. The classroom will look much different, but comprise a vast depth of knowledge as grandmas, mothers, daughters, aunties, grandpas, fathers, sons, and uncles come together to invoke the teachings of hands-on, project based activities.
We must remember that this is a time to tune in to the teachings, wisdom, and advice of our elders and to center our tribes’ own IKS. It is unrealistic and INEQUITABLE to continue to expect that learning will happen through technology alone. The health and well-being of our Native American students are larger and more long term than the expectations of pandemic education.
As Indigenous people, parents, and families, we must hold true to our own story of survival and ties to the land and not succumb to what pandemic-education has imposed on us. Western Education is important, but so is our own linguistic and cultural education, in the words of Brooke Amman, “Indigenous language education IS education”. Our Indigenous Children and Families are capable of being with their children, learning and teaching with their children, and doing what is best for their children.
This is a time to BE PRESENT with our children. We must teach them to respond to this stressful time instead of react. Many traditional Indigenous lifeways/activities promote a feeling of calmness both physically and emotionally.
Many of our cultures are built around the sacredness and preciousness of the child and growing that child into a good human being. Using this time to support our children in connecting to our IKS that has been passed down through time will contribute to a more holistic learning agenda. This, in turn, will continue to support connection and holistic health in our families and communities. Let’s center the overall wholeness and well-being of our children and trust our children to develop in the way they are supposed to. To do so, will enrich them-and ourselves- deeply.
What are some practical/everyday things families can do with their children that are centered in our Indigenous Knowledge Systems, Way of Life and Survival?
Start with observing the season we are in and your local landscape and think about what the lifeways are that your grandparents or great grandparents did with their children. How did our ancestors give thanks and show their children how to do so? If you don’t know, it’s an optimum time to do research. But in the meantime, here is a general framework to get your mind thinking in that way. We are sure you will come up with even more ways to expand this framework. The chart can be expanded to fit any region and season and one can add even more categories.
About the Authors
Trisha Moquino is the Founding Education Director and the Keres speaking Elementary Guide at Keres Children’s Learning Center (KCLC) which serves Cochiti Pueblo. She is from the tribal communities of Cochiti, Kewa, and Ohkay Ohwingeh Pueblos in New Mexico. Trisha completed her Montessori Elementary I certification at the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies and her Primary training with United Montessori Association. She completed her Master’s at the University of New Mexico and her Bachelor’s degree at Stanford University. Her master’s thesis laid out the vision for what would eventually become the KCLC. Her daughters were her inspiration for wanting to start KCLC.
Lynette Stant, from the Dine’ Nation, is the 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year. She is a fifteen-year veteran elementary teacher who teaches 3rd grade on the Salt River Indian Reservation in Scottsdale, Arizona. She holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Grand Canyon University, and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Arizona State University. Mrs. Stant is a Gates Millennium Scholar. Her mission is to ensure her students have an equitable opportunity to become leaders, despite the oppressive issues many face, and uses her cultural experiences to be a reflective educator. She believes that student success begins with meaningful relationships and inspires her students to create a sense of family in and outside of the classroom. Reminding them, in order to understand where they are going, they must embrace where they come from.