(Global Arts Language Arts Culture Tradition Indigenous Communities)
Global Indigenous Studies: The Navajo Technical University Experience
By Wesley Thomas and Amy Horowitz
Association of American Colleges & Universities
The Importance of Graduating in the Navajo Way
By Amy Horowitz, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
December 7, 2017
Education in traditional knowledge, as well as global issues, form the foundation of this Navajo Nation university.
GALACTIC Global Arts Infusion
Part of Balfour Scholars Program
When Dean Wesley Thomas from Navajo Technical University and I created GALACTIC, we asked ourselves whether it was possible to internationalize curricula at indigenous institutions when the local struggles and challenges are so immediate and dire that attending to the global seemed a future goal somewhat out of present reach. As we dug deeper, we saw how deeply intertwined the local and the global are for indigenous communities and how empowering it would be to draw connections through comparative studies of leadership, water issues, or even the ways of knowing of sheep-centered societies. Why not a comparative course on economic, environmental, sacred, artistic, music, food practices among communities, among Bedouin, Peruvian, Armenian and Navajo shepherd societies? Conversations between Navajo and Peruvian weavers a few summers ago at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival inspired this idea.
Our thought process included language, land, and cultural practices under siege due to the long and continuing history of cultural genocide, land thievery, broken treaties, and appropriation not only of the minerals within sacred mountains, but of the very children who were appropriated and sent to boarding schools that stripped them of their language and their roots. Looking to the model provided by WINHEC (World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium) we conceive pedagogy as combining “western” methodologies and indigenous practices taught by traditional practitioners who also serve as wise counsel rather than objects of study. GALACTIC, following the WINHEC model ensures that global indigenous study requires oversight by a council of elders from the community who can ensure that learning remains grounded in traditional ways of knowing and being.
History is not a past relic to be romanticized but it is a way of living daily life. The idea of linear time is a Western colonial construction. The past, present and the future are not separate realms with neat borders in time or space. The Diné people, and all indigenous peoples, carry traditions, traumas, perseverance, language, ceremonies and these transform the present and ensure the future. Even when we talk about a postcolonial consciousness, indigenous peoples and the perpetrators of colonialism carry forward the legacies of devastation, colonial brutality, violence, genocide and cultural annihilation wrought on indigenous peoples in the Navajo nation and globally.
So somewhere along the ever-present way of colonial life, we got together to think about how to reimagine global studies as Global Indigenous Studies and to highlight this as more than Eurocentric institutions offering courses on the study of the “others” but rather as global Indigenous education arising from indigenous communities. That’s what we are aiming to do with GALACTIC – a word that invites us to travel beyond the global and into the universal – not in the way that word is usually misunderstood to erase difference but to see ourselves as part of a living cosmos – we already exist within the galaxies. We posit an arts, culture, language and tradition approach to Global Indigenous Studies because that’s the way societies really work if they are really working. We draw upon and study the Indigenous communities that have decolonized their own countries (India, Hong Kong and others) over time, against all odds. What can we learn from them? How do we translate this strong need for change into reality globally?
We draw on their work as we look at global indigenous studies for current and future indigenous generations. A colonial approach to global studies results in a “utopian” imagined Western society that erases and romanticizes the endless variation of people, language and their actual ways of life. This colonial approach appropriates, romanticizes and misinterprets indigenous ways of life and ways of knowing. A Global Indigenous Studies approach emerging from the hogan, or the yurt, or the beit al-sha’r is rooted to indigenous ways of knowing. We imagine further developing comparative courses such as the sheep-centered society course mentioned previously and eventually a comparative graduate program in a global indigenous studies center at Navajo Tech.