Sunday 24 July 2016

Rethinking Education: The impact of the policies and treatment of the First Nation people in the US - posting by Erna Bruwer, UJ

Rethinking Education: The impact of the policies and treatment of the First Nation people in the US 

Posting by Erna Bruwer
La Vonne Cornell-Swanson
Director of OPID
University of Wisconsin.
Presentation 20 July 2016

The University of Johannesburg is fast moving into the waves of decolonisation of education; “making our knowledge our own”… rethinking education in regards to change within a social just mind.  This presentation on the history of First Nation People (US) with regards to policies and treatment was one not to be missed. Thinking of First Nation People (Cherokee tribe) the first thing that one visualises is the “dream catcher” or the logo of a famous restaurant chain. One tends to forget that the medicine wheel and the eagle feather war bonnet have a deep spiritual and cultural meaning for the Indian tribes.  Inspired by a deep knowledge of the scholarship of teaching and learning as well ancestry roots within the Cherokee tribe La Vonne Cornell-Swanson takes us through a passionate journey. The presentation grand finale is the success of the University of Wisconsin strategy (tribal collages) involving partnerships with tribal communities including indigenous language and pedagogue within a holistic framework (figure 1).  
Professors work with tribal leaders in sharing and learning. Education created to serve the students in perceived language, culture and has national/international effect. The collective pedagogy ensures the tribes involvement in different ways of knowing. The students can acknowledge their identity and are able to move between two worlds (cultural and western). The Powwow trail is a social gathering celebrating the traditions and passing it on (Cornell-Swanson, 2016).

The University programme has intuitional responsibility in breaking the legacy of colonization related to the systemic issues of social class, poverty and access to education.  Institutions recognize a moral and ethical obligation to indigenous people. The relationship between the university and indigenous people is important. Authentic allies can use their position of power or influence within the institutional culture to effect change.  This is not just an “American Indian” issue but rather it is a community issues. It is important to give back the knowledge shared (reciprocity). Relevance refers to how the university through services and research relates to the lived experience of indigenous people. Reciprocity occurs in three areas: financial resources, recruitment and retention and words into action.  Words into action includes presence in the mission statement and goals.  Respect for indigenous knowledge/ valued, respected: elders in residence. Creating opportunities for voice, to be heard, requires active listening (Cornell-Swanson, 2016).

Figure 1. Indigenous Holistic Framework. (Pidgeon, 2009)

The history of the policies and the impact on the First Nation People begins in 1830 with the invasion of cultural land by of the Europeans (Table 1).

Table 1. The historical timeline shows the devastated impact of the invasion of Europeans of America on the Cherokee nation. (Cornell-Swanson, 2016)


Policies towards First nation people in Us



Indian boarding School Movement/The trail of tears.

Indian children removed and placed boarding schools.


The Indian Termination Policy.

Individuals (not one ethnic group) must assimilate into mainstream Western civilization.
Ended tribe sovereignty and freedom.
Trusteeship of the reservations.
Exclusion of Indians from state laws.


The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975. (ISDEAA)

Self-determination the focus of government action.

Government agencies to enter into contracts with, and make grants directly to, federally recognized Indian tribes.

Independent collective nation (Indian) and individual nation.

Own kinship system into families with a clan. The family is intact. The tribe make the decisions.
Authority to administered the funds

Greater control over their welfare.

Designing own school language.

Teachers are Native people


Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)

Keep American Indian children with American Indian families.

"Protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.

Sovereignty was symbolised by Turtle Island.


The Path to Act 31

Cultural practice of “spear fishing” leads to
protest over fear of overfishing by Indians

This lead to treaty restoring the right of people including the history of Native nations and the indigenous knowledge.


First Nation Studies

Pre service teacher preparation
Act 31 Website for Professors, Pre-service and Certified Teachers
Native American and First Nation Studies Programs
Indigenous Language Collaboration with tribal communities


Tribal Colleges
Native American and First Nation Studies Programs
Indigenous language courses
UW Green Bay First Nations Fusion Program
Connective Pedagogy- Indigenous wholistic framework
Elders in residence
Act 31 Fusion

This presentation brings home a feeling of similarity and the idea that rethinking education is necessary like a spinal column in order to keep the body upward. The insight on the impact of policies and the treatment of the First nation People in the US leaves one with a feeling of hope, courage and a positive energy. The audience was engaged and enthusiastic about the presentation.  The importance of knowledge of the different cultures within the university is again emphasised. Even though UJ has a cultural day every year a more active role can be played. Traditional leaders can engage as partners in future projects relevant to indigenous knowledge.


Cornell-Swanson, L. (2016). Rethinking Education: The impact of the policies and treatment of the First Nation people in the US. Presentation 20 July at University of Johannesburg.

Pidgeon, M. 2009.