Indigenous college students deserve Indigenous academics.
This philosophy drives the University of Oregon Sapsik’wałá Education Program, which Leilani Sabzalian, of the Alutiiq individuals of southcentral Alaska, leads with Professor Michelle Jacob, of the Yakama Nation in Washington state. In a collaboration between the 9 federally acknowledged Tribal Nations in Oregon and the College of Education UOTeach grasp’s program, Indigenous college students are educated to show in Indigenous communities (“Sapsik’wałá,” pronounced “sahp-see-kwuh-THLAH,” means “teacher” in Ichishkíin/Sahaptin, a language historically spoken alongside the Columbia River in southern Washington.)
“Our motto is: ‘Education strengthens our people,’” Sabzalian says. “We model how to put Indigenous pedagogies and knowledge at the center of teaching. Our students aren’t there to learn just what I think is important—we invite them to turn toward their own communities and ways of life that are full of brilliance.”
One venerable Indigenous pedagogy is storytelling. Sabzalian shared a narrative herself—of an Indigenous youth in public colleges whose absences prompted mischaracterizations of laziness and disinterest by a principal; the truth is, the youth was fulfilling ceremonial obligations of their group, a present of maturity that ought to have been applauded.
“Public schools don’t typically value the knowledge and culture of Indigenous youth,” Sabzalian says. “It’s vital that our students see their knowledge and culture as a source of strength before they become teachers.”
Another Indigenous pedagogy: studying from Elders.
A brand new program characteristic known as Grow Your Own prioritizes multigenerational instruction by gathering excessive schoolers enthusiastic about this system with UO undergraduates, grasp’s college students, alumni, and Elders. One revered mentor—Yakama linguist Virginia Beavert, PhD ’12 (linguistics)—turned 100 final November.
“Having our students in community with an Elder is invaluable,” Sabzalian says. “But those youth perspectives are just as important. They teach us whether what we think is important is actually relevant to them.”
Triple Duck Turned Teacher
Sabzalian was adopted as a baby by a Eugene-area white couple. Although she was liked, she says, she grew up feeling disconnected from her Indigenous identification, group, and tradition.
That modified on the UO, after Sabzalian enrolled within the school to develop into a instructor. On her solution to bachelor’s and grasp’s levels and a doctorate, she embraced Indigenous research—and her identification. She ultimately visited her homeland, the Native Village of Chignik, and met her organic mom’s prolonged household.
“I had to work hard for my knowledge of Indigenous studies and to feel good about myself as an Indigenous person,” Sabzalian says. “I used to think of that as a deficit, that I wasn’t as Indigenous as other people. Now, I realize it’s a strength. I worked my way back into my knowledge and relations.”
Personal Project, Professional Value
Sabzalian is researching her life and the persevering with journey to reconnect along with her homeland, language, and roots.
“Although it’s a personal project, it has value for the future teachers I work with,” she says. “It takes courage and humility to reconnect with your community. By modeling that, I’m showing there’s always time to go back and talk to your aunties or connect with other relatives. There’s time to learn about your language and homelands and those are sources of power for you.”
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