Highlights from the National American Indian Education Association Convention

Last week I was honored to present on the use of Check & Connect with American Indian students and be a part of the National Indian Education Association 46th Annual Convention, and what a wonderful event! I was fortunate to have attended the general assemblies and learned many lessons in the numerous workshops during the days as well as be in attendance at the evening festivities like the film screening of “Rising Voices” and Friday night’s Powwow. The most challenging parts of the convention were choosing between the many offerings for each workshop, as well as ending rich conversations to make it to the next workshop on time! During my presentation I was excited to have conversations with educators from around the country and had particularly rich conversations around the difficulties of family and teacher engagement. Although I was fortunate to hear from a multitude of amazing educators, community leaders, parents and members, there were a few sessions I attended that left a particularly strong impression with me.

First, was keynote speaker Matika Wilbur, founder and photographer for Project 562 (see Project 562 website). Matika has challenged herself with photographing members from each of the 562 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. in an attempt to dispel stereotypes, correct inaccuracies, and so much more. While each of the photographs she shared with us was beautifully taken, the story and detail with which she captures each subject was truly breathtaking. While she was speaking, the audience laughed, were brought to tears, and were infected by her amazing light, energy, and passion for her work and her people.

Also inspiring was the workshop I attended on the work of INPEACE , the Institute for Native Pacific Education and Culture (see INPEACE website), whose work in Hawaii revolves around educating and empowering Native Hawaiians in their culture, language, and customs. The multitude of services they provide to their community — from early childhood education and language immersion, to family field trips to local farms to learn about ancient foods and preparation (all at no cost) — were a true example of how just a few people with an idea and passion can grow into a whole community regaining their heritage.

Finally, I learned about using Innovative Configurations (IC) in the context of improving equitable practices for students in the classroom by promoting culturally responsive teaching strategies (see workshop description). This use of ICs (which were also new to me) encourages staff members to have input on acceptable versus unacceptable practices at their schools and provides an atmosphere of support for those educators who may strive to incorporate the cultures of their students but who do not share the same background and/or have knowledge of how best to incorporate their students’ cultures.

There were many more wonderful presentations and speakers, and overall I was left inspired to re-evaluate practices to ensure that the students of each community I work with are being served in a culturally responsive manner and that the needs of all students are taken into account.

The reflection question I was left with, and ask you now, is this:

How are you supporting your students to ensure they feel welcome, accepted, and valued at your school?

(Please comment below.)

About the Author: Jana Hallas, M.Ed., is a project coordinator and member of the Check & Connect training team at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.

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The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

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