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Author's talk defines 'Indian Education'
16 December 2003
Story and photo by Dennis J. Neumann

BISMARCK, ND - Author Joseph Marshall III raises this question about the meaning of the term Indian Education. "Is it education 'by' Indians or the education 'of' Indians?"

      "For several hundred years it has meant the latter - the education 'of' Indians," he said in a December 1 talk at United Tribes Technical College. "Until recently it was not the education 'of' Indians 'by' Indians."

      That's what Marshall identified as the crux of a presentation he prepared for UTTC faculty and staff. Who is doing the educating and what's being taught? His talk, Indian Education: What it was, What it is, What it should be, was based on an essay commissioned of him by Brian Palecek, head of UTTC's general education department.

Joseph Marshall III photo
Author Joseph Marshall III presenting his essay about Indian Education at United Tribes Technical College.

      Marshall's eloquent and thought provoking answer covered the range of education experienced by American Indians from the pre-contact period through the ever-changing array of government-mandated programs that came after. Indian education, he said, is best understood when seen in its historic context.

      A founder and charter board member of Sinte Gleska University, Marshall observed that tribal education leaders have ultimately taken control of Indian education. Through enactment of tribal education laws, hiring of native educators and administrators, election of native school board members, and the formation of tribal colleges, they've turned a negative into a positive, he said.

      Marshall's definition of Indian education: "Education of Indians by Indians incorporating and/or adapting pre-European methodology into the contemporary curriculum." He urges a careful examination of the methods and philosophy used by people in the past, those of his great grandparents generation and earlier.

      What about non-Indian teachers?

      "If you're going to teach Indian students then you have a responsibility, whether you're Indian or non Indian, to know where we come from. anyone involved in the education of Indian students, in any way, shape or form, has a responsibility to be well versed in the past. Where we come from is important."

      The result, he says, will be Indian students who are culturally and historically aware, have a stronger sense of identity, and who will enter the mainstream as well-rounded individuals. "It comes down to knowing who you are as a native person. We owe it to native kids to teach them what they're about. That's what Indian Education should be."

      According to Palecek, Marshall's essay on the subject of Indian Education, along with a videotape of his talk, will be made available soon and perhaps distributed to a wider audience. Brian Palecek can be reached at bpalecek@uttc.edu.


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