Faculty Fellowship Helps Professor Nurture an Indigenous Teaching Style
January 26, 2023, Denver, Colo. – Tashina Emery’s entire teaching philosophy was changed thanks to a fellowship from the American Indian College Fund. Emery, the Liberal Studies Department Chair at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College, says her Mellon Fellowship not only helped her to earn her second master’s degree in creative writing, but also helped her expand her offerings and perspective as an instructor in her classroom. She says her own experience enrolling at a tribal institution, sitting in on classes held by other Native faculty, and attending a conference with more tribal college and university staff were all part of her transformation.
For example, Emery likes to step away from an authoritarian hierarchy while instructing by reorganizing the layout of the room which is an Indigenous learning style. She and her students will sit in a circle, which she likens to the circles of Native aunties and grandmas from whom she learned sewing in her home community. Emery also uses technology in the classroom, blending modern tools with more traditional ways of teaching to create hybrids such as digital storytelling, hosted creative “freewrites,” and hosting showings of Native representative films. Her goal is to be grounded in grassroots efforts and to create future creative Native leaders who are well-rounded community contributors with an understanding of art, culture, and the digital world. And it was this thinking that led her to pursue a Mellon Fellowship and her second master’s degree.
Emery received her first master’s degree in art and public policy from a western institution where she discovered a passion for writing techniques and public policy. She says that although the institution was progressive in fighting colonial forces for equity and diversity, she knew she wanted to attend a tribal college or university to attain a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Her goal was to focus on combining art, writing, and social justice in her career with her culture as the priority in the classroom.
In her second year as a staff member at KBOCC, Emery says a colleague with the university’s institutional memory told her about the Mellon Fellowship and suggested she apply. The fellowship allowed her to attend the Institute for American Indian Arts, where she was able to walk across the stage at graduation with her tribal flag from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community hung nearby to represent her people walking with her.
In addition to earning an advanced degree, Emery says she made personal and professional connections and gained a pan-Indian perspective—all opportunities which she says the fellowship brought her and for which she is grateful. Her advice to future fellows is, “Utilize everything the College Fund offers and invest in the fellowship meetings and conferences. The chances for the cohort to meet were meaningful and more importantly, healing. I still follow, talk, and connect with some of the powerful women I met during that time.”
About the American Indian College Fund—The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 33 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $14.45 million in scholarships and other direct student support to American Indian students in 2021-22. Since its founding in 1989 the College Fund has provided more than $284 million in scholarships and program, community, and tribal college support. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit www.collegefund.org.
Journalists—The American Indian College Fund does not use the acronym AICF. On second reference, please use the College Fund.
Photo: Tashina Emery, Liberal Studies Department Chair, Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College