An audio documentary from APM Reports.
August 2, 2022 | by Sasha Aslanian
Native American students are just a tiny fraction of all the college students in the United States. They come with different histories, confronting an education system once used to erase their languages and cultures.
In this project, four Indigenous college students tell how they are using higher education to strengthen ties to their Native roots and support their people.
Education for me is truth-seeking. I knew that focusing on American Indian Studies at Augsburg University would help me better understand the history of colonization here in America. Knowledge is an act of resistance and a way to help Native people.
This is a capitalist system and the best way that we can support our people and ourselves and our families is to make money. You can bring that college degree back to your people and get a job for your tribe. Maybe you're able to indigenize new space or you strengthen the space that your people are already in.
Ever since I was a child, I was taught by my mother, or my grandma, the ways of healing. In the Hopi culture, running is a healing force. While running, many individuals take this time to pray for those in need — in hopes of giving strength. It is this type of tradition that I want to tie into my work as a doctor.
I didn't know what it took to be a doctor. I thought medical school was beyond people like myself. I found out that less than 1 percent of American physicians are Native American, or identify as Native American. As I go through my education and complete the prerequisites needed to be a physician, I better understand the negative impact the current healthcare system has had on my people. This led me to start finding ways to incorporate the traditional teachings into medicine, and overall better serve Native peoples, which starts by me finishing my education.
My dream is to become an orthopedic surgeon and work with Native athletes around the nation. After seeking support from programs, mentors, and finding my own way, I am finding the resiliency needed to get through this difficult education system.
I gave the gang life at least ten years of my life. I lived a horrible life. I did horrible things. So I figured, what if I gave schooling, higher education, my language and my culture — what if I gave them ten years of my life? Being a teacher would be my way to atone.
I always knew if I went back to school, I’d go to Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. I’m learning my language and culture and it’s something I’m proud to tell people. That’s the whole thing I’m trying to do with this schooling and becoming a teacher — heal my community and all the damage and destruction I’ve done my whole life.
I am Native Hawaiian from Kailua on the island of Oahu in Hawaiʻi. One of my ultimate dreams is for people to see Hawaiʻi in the same way I do. To see it for all of its both natural beauty but its cultural beauty because there is no Hawaiʻi without Hawaiians. My goal is to give back to my people, to my lāhui, in the way that I know best, which is through science.
I’m studying chemistry and geology at Stanford University. Hopefully, one day, I’ll work at the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park and become a geochemist to study and further understand and improve our knowledge of volcanoes, these huge monstrous beings that are creating the Hawaiian Islands. It's the perfect intersection for me of both my culture and of science, because it's creating new land, but also creating more of Hawaiʻi for my people.
Her story can be heard as a bonus episode of the Educate podcast.
Camille Leihulu Slagle
Reuben Kitto Stately
Betsy Towner Levine
This project was supported by Lumina Foundation, the Spencer Foundation and a reporting grant from the Education Writers Association.