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Supporting Research – Building TCU Intellectual Capacity

I had the opportunity to listen to some of the research and projects of the Sloan and Mellon Fellows and Scholars associated with the American Indian College Fund over the last two days. (Regretably an appointment with an electrician and travel to SD prevented me from hearing all of them, something I will have to try to remedy.)

What a pleasure it was to hear about the remarkable place-based or culturally specific research being done by these scholars. I look forward to the publication of the research conducted by this group as well as the previous cohorts. There is a real need among the TCUs to develop our ability to support research all the way through publication. Publication helps us ensure that what we learn is accessible to students and other scholars.

As I listened to both Native and non-Native scholars who are all associated with the TCUs, I reflected on my experience in the late 1990′s with the emerging commitment of the tribal colleges to community based and participatory research. At the time of the Tribal College Journal hosted research conference at Orcas Island during an AIHEC summer retreat, we were just beginning to see the connection of our role as teaching institutions and the necessity of being part of the emerging field of place based tribal research and scholarship. Our tribal ways of knowing always existed and were the foundation of the tribal colleges’ vision and programs. In the early days our focus was on our workforce and influencing the educational environment of our reservations including teacher education and human services. In recent years, the expansion of our missions to include land protection and natural resources management, business and entrepreneurship and the sciences along with land grant programming broadened our research capacity. The evolving capabilities of our Native scholars has resulted in more focus on connecting traditional knowledge or ways of knowing to modern issues and organizational experiences.

One of the great things about the Sloan and Mellon opportunity is that AICF brings tribal scholars into deliberate and focused contact with experienced researchers through both the mentoring program and gatherings like the retreat. Malia Villegas of the NCAI Policy Research Center, Ed Galindo, University of Idaho, Rita Asgierrson of NWIC and Tarajean Yazzie Mintz with AICF all provided insights of their experiences with research and mentorship. I listened as scholars considered how to frame their research questions, how to conduct research within the context of tribal community, and how to use processes like institutional review boards to their advantage.

Some of the scholars while employed at TCUs are conducting research that impacts a broader learning community than reservation or tribal communities, they have drawn in Native students as researchers and interns. One outcome that I observed is the interest by Native scholars in the action based research model of studying how their practices of teaching impact student learning. Three ideas I heard that resonated with me were the use of oratory practice to develop greater understanding of and comfort with science, the development of texts and courses that promote tribal values and the commitment of tribal students to preservation of land and cultural knowledged and the relationship of cultural classes to student academic success. The retreat provides a place for our scholars to think about their work.

In many ways the Sloan and Mellon program participants are the result of 40 years of the development of research as a component of TCU missions. This is especially true of the Native scholars whose maturity and experiences prepared them to conduct research that applies to their tribal communities, that address critical needs and community issues and which contribute to the body of knowledge of indigenous ways of knowing.

To learn more about this opportunity for tribal college faculty and students, contact Ken Wilson at the College Fund.

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