by Kweku Ocran, Little Priest Tribal College Ihduwiyayapi Project Administrator
The 2022-2023 Ihduwiyayapi: Advancing Indigenous Early Childhood Education program grant from the American Indian College Fund at Little Priest Tribal College, titled Building the Capacity of Early Childhood Education through Innovative Indigenous Approaches, supported the Early Childhood Education (ECE) program at Little Priest Tribal College (LPTC) in a variety of ways to help indigenize ECE programming, curriculum, instruction, pathways, and the total educational experience of early childhood students.
Activities included presentations on culturally responsive practices, intergenerational knowledge, and Indigenous spirituality. Retreats and focus group meetings explored the many educational issues confronting the Winnebago community in Nebraska and provided spaces for members of the community to brainstorm and discuss issues from an Indigenous Ho-Chunk perspective. The information collected from these sessions was next incorporated into ECE programming.
LPTC’s Ihduwiyaypai project centers the Ho-Chunk language, culture, and practices in teaching, learning, and overall student experiences. The impact of this approach drives the ECE program in the following ways:
- Builds reliance on and transfers Indigenous knowledge, pedagogies, and practices that support education and community;
- Encourages the resurgence and reclaims of Indigenous culture as a resource to decolonize mainstream praxis;
- Cultivates, supports, and centers Indigenous voices, consciousness, and agency in the Indigenization process; and
- Provide a space for Indigenous stories and/or fire side story-talks that form the basis of teaching, learning, and research practices.
Achieving a total Indigenized ECE program requires hard work and concerted efforts. Drawing from an Indigenous perspective ensured that Ho-Chunk voices were respected in this project. For instance, all of the resource persons, presenters, and facilitators for the project activities, such as Cassie Kitcheyan, Michelle Free, Amy Lapointe, Kumiko Masquat, and Keri Lapointe, are Native community members who live within the Winnebago Community.
One of the project’s objectives is to develop pathways for ECE teachers. Following a series of meetings and discussions with the director of education, plans were made to organize a daylong retreat to bring together community leaders.
Twenty members of the community who work with local stakeholder institutions connected to education within the Winnebago reservation attended, including the leadership teams from LPTC, WPS, EDUCARE, CTE, Ho-Chunk Inc., and Ho-Chunk Renaissance.
Amy LaPointe, the education director, facilitated the retreat. She highlighted themes including current resources available in the community for teachers; challenges and barriers for teachers; community needs for teachers; and strategies to chart the way forward. Participants were divided into groups to discuss community strength, challenges, barriers, resources availability, and concrete strategies to ameliorate the problem.
During the session, participants passionately discussed and documented their responses to later share with the entire group. Topics identified included an urgent need for the Winnebago tribe to grow its own teaching pool, community wellbeing, and innovative strategies to recruit and incentivize high school and college students to major in education. The consensus was that Indigenous nations can only achieve teacher parity and sufficiency if more effort and resources are devoted to growing local talents.
In closing the session, the facilitator said, “We all know and understand the gravity of teacher shortages at all levels of education within our community. The problem needs urgent and immediate attention if we are to assert our sovereignty as the Ho-Chunk nation. Inaction is not an option because if we don’t do anything about it the situation will get worse and posterity will never forgive us. It is therefore time for us to act now…and to act fast.”
This is the first of a series of retreats to address teacher shortages and a lack of Native teachers facing the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.
Teachers are central to the transfer of knowledge, values, and traditions to the next generation. This project’s work to provide pathways for ECE students and to collaborate to address the teacher shortage problem is a step in the right direction. Future funding will support other relevant community partnerships to provide avenues and opportunities to strengthen ECE programming at LPTC.