Respecting Native students: “Remember we will be watching”
By Robb Scott, Multilingual Adaptive Systems Newsletter
Native Presence and Sovereignty in College: Sustaining Indigenous Weapons to Defeat Systemic Monsters (Amanda R. Tachine, 2022, Teachers College Press)
Amanda Tachine’s new book, Native Presence and Sovereignty in College: Sustaining Indigenous Weapons to Defeat Systemic Monsters, was made available by Teachers College Press on April 29, 2022, and I immediately secured a copy of it, an e-book edition compatible with Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). I am a non-Native reader, and I approached this reading experience with an open mind to learning from Dr. Tachine’s qualitative data that she acquired through interviews with ten college-age Navajo youth during their first year of coursework at a major public university in a mostly non-Native demographic setting. I have found this to be a compelling presentation with a rich research base.
As the author points out repeatedly in her weaving of her “story rug,” the label “Navajo” encompasses a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles, inclusive of urban and non-urban aspects as well as an array of further delineating characteristics which would confound any effort by me to make generalizations in my review of her study.
What I learned from these students is that they are constantly negotiating through multiple worlds (examples include home, college, church, and histories as Diné and gendered selves), such that belonging is shaped and redefined depending on context, time, experiences, and knowledges. (Tachine, 2022)
Four systemic monsters and monstrous internalization
In her analysis of the comments, feelings, impressions, and insights from the ten Navajo college students in her interviews with them during their first year at university, Tachine has identified four systemic monsters that threaten Indigenous students, “seeping into [their] sense of being” through a process she calls “monstrous internalization.”
First is the “financial hardship monster,” related to the costs of attending college in the context of economic pressures at home and stress associated with competing for limited grants and scholarships. Second is the “deficit (not enough) monster,” related to self-confidence, self-doubt, and self-concept. Third is the “(in)visibility monster,” which Tachine suggests is tied both to settler colonialism’s efforts to “erase” Indigenous culture and racist efforts to set norms for defining the terms of “belonging.” Fourth is the “failure monster,” or how “meritocracy” and grading systems are stacked in favor of White students.
Resisting the White gaze
With reference to historical fact and extensive research literature, Amanda Tachine makes a persuasive case that all of these systemic monsters “are rooted in White supremacy, settler colonialism, assimilation, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and racism.” She encourages and inspires students to overcome these systemic monsters by using weapons of “resurgence,” “continuance,” “reverence,” and “refusal.” There is a subtle logic in her premise that the existence of the monsters contains within it elements to be used for strengthening the concept of self-determination for a new generation of Indigenous learners and leaders.
[S]ystemic monsters remind us of our Indigenous weapons. Settler colonialism may tell us to rise (resurgence), to care for and protect the land and our loved ones. Assimiliation asks us to keep going (continuance) and learn our Indigenous ways, centered on relationality and life. Meritocracy teaches us to practice (reverence) by acknowledging that we are sacred and brilliant in our own ways and on our own terms. Racism and erasure instill in us to look away (refusal) from the monsters’ depictions of us and be in the knowing of our sovereignty and belonging, on our terms. (Tachine, 2022)
Figure 1. Antelope Canyon (by cnstnt on Pixabay)
Establishing a sense of belonging on one’s own terms
She not only interviewed the ten students in her study, but her writing suggests that Tachine was counseling and encouraging these students as well. She was especially concerned about a common thread in their adjustment to college life in that “[these] students questioned their sense of belonging because of the way others viewed them.” To explain the depth of such misconceptions, Tachine cited research from Vine Deloria Jr. (1988) “in which he discussed the harmful ways that early White anthropologists detailed assertions about us, such that we then have taken them up as our own.”
White anthropologists, sociologists, professors, classmates, and many others compartmentalize our fluid and nuanced lifeways into basic understandings of difference. Binary framing manifests in other ways that we talk about ourselves: reservation Native and urban Native, traditional and nontraditional, full-blooded and non-full (fraction) blooded, Native speaker and non-Native speaker, straight and gay, man and woman, and so on. (Tachine, 2022)
“There is no one way to be Native, writes Tachine. “When we take up terms not created by us, we diminish our multiplicity of worldviews and reinforce the deficit (not enough) and (in)visibility monsters’ powers on us,” she asserts. “And this is true for how we think, talk, and refuse notions of belonging to institutions that are antithetical (in many ways) to our Indigenous ways. We can do our best to refuse a monsters’ sense of belonging.”
The fallacy of White superiority syndrome
In her closing argument, Amanda Tachine calls for educators, anthropologists, and psychologists to break out of two entrenched mindsets or theoretical perspectives regarding popular portrayals of Native American consciousness and Indigenous experience. First, she rejects the term “imposter syndrome” for feelings of self-doubt fed by “monstrous internalizations” experienced by Native students like the ones in her study. Instead, Tachine suggests the problem is that “White supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy have been haunting us since settlers arrived at our home(lands).”
“The real alarm,” says Tachine, “is that Whiteness and White supremacy have a superiority syndrome complex….Superiority syndrome complex is a denial of failure, a rejection of other ways of viewing success, and a preoccupation of maintaining superiority. Lies.”
Her other theoretical concern regards “the widely held views among Native people that we struggle over belonging because we are straddling between 'two-worlds'….Yet often when 'two-worlds' is referenced, if we listen closely, there is a diminishment of Native personhood and an uplift of Whiteness.”
Rediscovering self-determination in a modern world
Amanda Tachine has done associated research on “relational-sovereign belonging, which is the moving through and honoring of self-determination while being intricately woven into relations (including ancestors, more than human relatives, land/place, and even monsters). It’s living in complexity, nuance, paradox, and contradiction.”
Most of this new book by Dr. Amanda R. Tachine is addressed to Native students aspiring to achieve higher education goals, but her final pages are directed to faculty and college leaders across America, both Native and non-Native, with a call to action, in the form of eight proposals from the American Indian College Fund, from a report she was involved in writing, titled “Creating visibility and healthy learning environments for Native Americans in higher education,” at “https://collegefund.org/blog/creating-visibility-and-health-learning-environments-for-native-americans-in-higher-education/.
Eight Declarations from the American Indian College Fund
1. We believe that Native American students have a right to a higher education and to attend any college or university of their choice.
2. We believe that colleges and universities have the duty to recognize and acknowledge that college campuses reside on the original homelands of Indigenous peoples.
3. We believe that colleges and universities have the duty to incorporate Indigenous knowledge for Native students to survive and thrive.
4. We believe in the inherent right of all Native students to have a place on college campuses that fosters their sense of belonging and importance in their campus community.
5. We believe that colleges and universities have a duty to make visible, to advocate for, and to empower Native students' degree attainment.
6. We believe that colleges and universities have a duty to cultivate an ethic of care in supporting Native peoples by listening, learning, and engaging with Native students, staff, and faculty.
7. We believe that senior leadership at higher education institutions must make a commitment to do system-level work that benefits Native students' college degree attainment.
8. We believe that colleges and universities have the responsibility to uphold tribal sovereignty by generating meaningful government-to-government relationships with tribal nations and tribal colleges and universities. (American Indian College Fund, 2019)
Imagining greater accountability in higher education
"What if institutions measured success based on how the Native communities measure success?," asks Amanda Tachine. "What if institutions measured success based on how they are cultivating an ethic of care by listening, learning, and engaging with Native students? What if institutions measured success based on upholding tribal sovereignty? What if institutions measured success based on how they foster belonging on Native terms?"
Her concluding words touched my heart and mind as a non-Native reader who has taught Indigenous students in middle school, high school, university, and adult education settings as well as collaborated with Native American teacher colleagues.
You may have my children in your classroom, office, program, and university. They are beautifully intelligent and divinely brilliant. Take care of them. Don't harm them. Know that they carry with them those hardships brought by systemic monsters and their hauntings. Yet they are not the problem; the monsters are. Name the monsters. See them. And stop blaming my children. They have magnificent Indigenous weapons that have generated beauty and power. It's not your job to teach them how to be; it's your job to let them be their truest, most radiant sacred selves.
And know that we will be watching. (Tachine, 2022)
Dr. Amanda Tachine discusses her forthcoming book
Interview with Dr. Amanda Tachine at CSRPC UChicago "Beyond Schools Lab"
The Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago
Dr. Amanda Tachine discusses her forthcoming book which is about family and kinship, capitalism, land and love, and self-determination of Navajo youth.
About the Author
Robb Scott is a co-editor of C2C Digital Magazine. He has lived and worked as a teacher and teacher educator in Kansas, Colorado, New York, Ecuador, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Dr. Scott has served as president and webmaster for Kansas TESOL and Kansas CEC. His education includes degrees from the University of Kansas (B.A., M.A.) and Kansas State University (Ed.D.), as well as a certificate in negotiating across cultures from the Fletcher School.His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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