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Indigenous Capital Impacts Higher Education

American Indian children are at a distinct disadvantage as they must learn to navigate school systems crafted to subjugate their culture, values, and languages in order to advance to higher education which is even less likely to honor the capital Indigenous students bring to their learning. Scholarly literature indicates that academic accomplishment is more related to cultural capital than aptitude and meeting academic benchmarks (Swartz, 1998). The definition of capital is understood to include both utility and power (Pidgeon, 2008). Bourdieu offered three types of capital (social, cultural, and economic) to explain the structures of the social world (Pidgeon, 2008; Mills, 2008). The offer of cultural capital is especially significant for American Indians who are led to believe that their way of knowing is primeval and their languages are believed inferior to the dominant culture (Battiste, 2009).


American Indians have experienced a multitude of atrocities propagated by the dominant cultures’ desire to maintain a power imbalance that fortifies their world building desires. Likewise, many Indigenous students have fallen victim to school systems based on a colonial mindset designed to assimilate them through the dominant cultures’ values and experiences, which in turn, begins to set the schema of the habitus to mimic the values that the school seeks to legitimize and transfer willfully (Mills, 2008). One scholar suggests that public education uses cognitive imperialism as a devious method of mental maneuvering to disrepute other people’s values and knowledge in order to substantiate another groups’ knowledge. To be stripped of one’s knowledge and identity is to be separated mentally and spiritually from one’s ancestors. Therefore, decolonization is not merely a political mechanism, but rather a cognitive imperative that allows the spirit and minds of the colonized to be set free. (Battiste, 1998).


Indigenous communities frequently have a very diverse set of questions that outlines the key instructive issue as being essentially around epistemic self-determination that incorporates dialect and culture and the challenges of creating academic approaches from a distinctive epistemological basis (Smith, 2005). One scholar indicates that Indigenous belief systems or habitus are founded on the notion that one must be able to comprehend one’s connection to the world and is rooted in the individual’s geographic origin and the culture of that place (Pidgeon, 2008).


IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed. IINII has extensive experience in building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.


Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at www.iinii.org, or contact us at iinii@iinii.org or 1800-507-2502.



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