Learning and Impact

Reimagining Our Learning, Research, and Evaluation to Create
Transformational Change.

As the College Fund has grown and changed, especially in the last decade, it is time for us to intentionally revisit our methods of inquiry and come together to create a collective and cohesive vision for why we engage in research, evaluation, and learning – and the core values that should guide these practices – so that our work can continue to be transformational.

Learning and Evaluation Vision Statement

Everything we do at the American Indian College Fund, including learning, research, and evaluation, is interwoven with community and our relatives – past, present, and future. We believe our relational accountabilities in learning and evaluation spaces are not just to ourselves and funders or donors but are centered in our greater responsibility to generations that come before and after our own. Evaluation for evaluation’s sake is not our goal – rather, we do this work to give back something valuable and practical to the communities we serve through the practice of learning, a longstanding Indigenous way of knowing. In this way, our evaluation work is not just a means to learn about outcomes and impacts, but also an opportunity to become better relatives to one another, to the land, and to generations past and future. Evaluation at the College Fund is working with Tribal communities to learn and hold space for the stories, dreams, and needs of the Native students, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Native communities we support while upholding our responsibilities and accountabilities as a non-profit organization.

Learning and Evaluation Core Values

We have collectively defined five Indigenous values – or core beliefs – to guide us in our learning and evaluation work and anchor our learning and evaluation practices at the College Fund. These values are reflected in our vision statement and in the learning and evaluation visual that represents our approach.

Hover on a Core Value to learn more.

Intergenerational Sense of Being and Responsibility

Native Community Empowerment and Visibility

Sovereignty

Honoring Diverse Native Voices and Experiences To Guide Us

Being a Good Relative to People and Place

Intergenerational Sense of Being and Responsibility

All the work we do affects many generations of learners, and we strive to build networks of support that extend beyond just one generation. This enables our relatives to make their own strategic decisions with long-term priorities in mind.

Native Community Empowerment and Visibility

Our people and communities have survived 500+ years of colonization, attempted genocide, and erasure. Learning and evaluation practices at the College Fund must not perpetuate the same strategies and tactics that have been used historically and contemporarily and have rendered us invisible. In this way, our learning and evaluation principles and practices empower and lift up our relatives with voice and choice. Empowering voice, like lifting up a drum song, means we strive to create learning and evaluation spaces where our relatives can show up, share, and reflect in ways that are authentic and meaningful for them. Empowering choice means that we always center our relatives’ sovereign and inherent rights throughout all aspects of learning and evaluation, including the choice to participate (or not), the choice of how data is collected, and the choice of what findings and conclusions are shared.

Sovereignty

Honoring and upholding sovereignty through research, evaluation, and learning is integral to what we do. At the College Fund, we hold ourselves to the highest standards: those set by Native peoples and communities we serve. Our research, evaluation, and learning centers the needs and inherent June 16, 2023 FINAL 5 sovereignty of Native people and communities and belongs to them. The College Fund actively invites the communities we support – Native scholars, tribal college staff and faculty, tribal leaders, and community members – to be part of and drive our work. Sovereignty is as much about self-determination of Tribal Nations as it is about self-expression by our Native relatives.

Honoring Diverse Native Voices and Experiences To Guide Us

The College Fund staff and the communities we serve come from diverse backgrounds and bring with them teachings from their own communities. At the College Fund, we embrace these ways of knowing and being in the world. We honor the world views, philosophies, and traditions of one another and hold space for many forms of knowledge in our work. We have a responsibility to caretake knowledge and those who share it with us, no matter what form it takes. As Native peoples and allies, we understand that our lived experiences provide context and guidance for the work we do. At the intersection of our lived experience sits traditional knowledge (from origin stories, clan stories), empirical knowledge (from observations), revealed knowledge (that which emerges through ceremony, visions, dreams), and felt knowledge (knowledge located in affect, emotion, feeling). These are all crucial to holistically understanding, learning, and nurturing the contexts in which we work and the Native people with whom we partner.

Being a Good Relative to People and Place

At the College Fund, we recognize that our work requires and impacts many relationships, including our human and more-than-human relatives (those of roots, of wings, of two-leggeds, of four-leggeds, and of water). We consider interconnectedness and consequences for the whole collective in our work, rather than focusing solely on humans, individuals, or one generation. As Vine Deloria Jr. once said: “Traditional education gives us an orientation to the world around us, particularly the people around us, so that we know who we are and have confidence when we do things. Traditional knowledge enables us to see our place and our responsibility within the movement of history.”

Visual Story

In the center of our image is a drum. This drum represents and centers the collective voice of our many Tribes and communities, which all use the drum in some way, and for whom the drum symbolizes the heartbeat of our mother/grandmother earth. At the center of the drum is the College Fund’s ‘Flame of Hope,’ which represents our mission of hope and transformation through education. Encircling the flame of hope are people: the Native students and communities we empower through education and whose sovereignty we honor. Woven into the image is the intergenerational sense of being and responsibility we share. There is a strong connection between the earth and the sky reflective of our understanding that what we do here on earth is connected to the spiritual world, of the present, and of our ancestors. Our image shows the interconnectedness of all things. A woman sun figure casts a nurturing gaze towards the drum, her hands with mountain -like features lifting, empowering, and supporting the growth of corn and tobacco, crops that provide nourishing food and medicine to our peoples. Smoke and stars represent prayers and ancestors being lifted skyward by the songs of the drum. The circular style of the whole image represents the intergenerational, holistic, and cyclical nature of our learning and evaluation approach, and how we place Native voice, choice, and visibility at the center. The watercolor evokes the key role water plays in nourishing life. The watercolor also evokes the resonance of learning and evaluation as practices that make ripples across our interconnected communities and generations, inspiring storytelling, reflection, and adaptation so that we can be good relatives to each other, the land, and all beings.