Journal of Educational Controversy


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Preview of "Talking With the Authors," featuring Curtis Acosta

Curtis Acosta, former Mexican-American Studies teacher from Tucson, Arizona, was interviewed recently for our "Talking With the Authors" series. His article on the banning of Mexican-American Studies in Tucson appeared in our issue on the theme, "Who Defines the Public in Public Education?"

Watch the full-length interview with Curtis Acosta here.

Our current issue, including Curtis Acosta's article, can be found here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nathaniel Barr interviews author Jioanna Carjuzaa, specialist in Indian Education

Jioanna Carjuzaa is the author of numerous articles, including "The Give Away Spirit: Reaching a Shared Vision of Ethical Indigenous Research Relationships" in the Summer 2010 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy (co-authored with J. Kay Fennimore Smith, read the article here). Dr. Carjuzaa teaches Multicultural Education at Montana State University--Bozeman and gave a presentation on April 8th at Western Washington University's Center for Education, Equity and Diversity. Her presentation focused on the history of Indian Education in Montana, especially on the fight to put Indian Education for All into effect. Indian Education for All is a state-level initiative in Montana that requires public schools to teach the histories and cultures of American Indians to their students. Jioanna explained some of the methods she and her colleagues had devised for teaching American Indian history and culture at the secondary and post-secondary education levels as well. Keep an eye out for a video interview with Dr. Carjuzaa on the Journal of Educational Controversy's website.

Nat: You mentioned in your presentation that Indian Education for All first became law in Montana in 1972 and that it had been 40-years in the making. So, from 1972, it's been a work in progress?

Jioanna Carjuzaa: Yes, there's no question that a lot of work has been done. As I highlighted, it was not until 2005 that we actually had the money to back what we wanted to do to implement the initiative.

Nat: And you mentioned that compliance too was an issue in some areas?

Jioanna Carjuzaa: It's a difficult thing--we don't have something in place to measure implementation. We're working on that. We want to know.

We have a lot of anecdotal information and I'm sure they use James Banks' "Levels of Integration [of Multicultural Content]" here as well. It's an easy model for us because the acronym spells 'CATS' and we're the Bobcats at MSU. We really want our students to aim for that third level when they're writing lesson and unit plans. The truth is, though, that's the transformation level--you start with just the superficial level. We want them to get to social action. That's what we're really hoping and we have wonderful examples of it.

In Missoula or Helena, there was a group of students who read James Welch's Fool's Crow and decided it was terrific. They wrote to the school board in Laurel, a district where that book had been challenged and actually banned, and said, "This was a very beautiful piece, it helped us to understand the Blackfeet and what happened historically. We think these students should be able to do that." We have other examples where Indian students are now proud of who they are and will stand up and share cultural things. Their parents are now welcomed into the classroom. So, we know the climate is changing. We have also seen some progress with the closing or narrowing of the achievement gap, but we know we still have some work to do.

Nat: You mentioned the history of Indian education as one of the subjects of your courses and I wanted to know more about the boarding school period in Montana history specifically.

Jioanna Carjuzaa: It's a difficult thing because most people are totally unaware of what happened: how students were forcibly taken from their homes and what happened to strip these young children of their cultures.
In Montana, we had mission schools and boarding schools.  People always want to hear about the Fort Shaw mission and the girls' basketball team. Peavey and Smith wrote a book, Playing for the World, and there's a PBS video as well. What they tried to look at was how these young stars became basketball heroes. The team actually won the 1904 World's Fair competition. It's interesting to look at because I guess if you're imprisoned in boarding school, you might as well have fun playing basketball. People don't understand these children were stripped of their spirituality and beliefs--everything--and don't understand  how traumatizing it must have been. The students were taken to schools all across the United States.

When I was working with the school leaders in the "I Lead Social Justice" class, we talked about how indigenous school administrators, principals, and superintendents could share the lasting effects and the generational trauma of the boarding school era with their faculty, who were, for the most part, non-Indian. It was really hard to say, "what do we share?" Some people argue that it's "ugly" and I have even heard "get over it"--things that are inappropriate. We need to share those histories.

We had talks about what resources they thought were useful and how to use them as Indian school leaders working with non-Indian faculty members. Somebody mentioned the film Rabbit-Proof Fence, for instance. My students were Indians from across Montana, and some of them said, "we have relatives and we know people who walked from Carlyle back to Fort Peck" and things like that. Can you imagine? It ended up being almost like a therapeutic session. People started sharing hard stuff. It is really hard stuff. A lot of people don't want to talk about it, but everyone has been impacted somehow. 

We use a lot of different resources to help people understand. Our Spirits Don't Speak English is a wonderful DVD that a lot of the school leaders I worked with thought was one of the most authentic resources to use. Walter Littleman, a Lakota, has written his memoir and there's also a PBS special about him. I like to use other primary resources as well and there are tons out there. You can find things not just from Montana and across the United States, but, of course, from the residential school period in Canada and the Stolen Generations in Australia. The parallels are frightening.

As for Pratt's famous quote that we want to make sure we "kill the Indian to save the man": well, you can't strip somebody of their cultural being. The boarding school children were no longer Indian as they were before, but they were never white men or women. Often they were just prepared to be domestics or to work in servitude forever. Their education was not anything that would be acceptable today.

The brutality: people really don't know what happened and the extent of the abuse. It was, of course, emotional, psychological, and physical, but it was also sexual and it was rampant. It's a very dark period in our history.

Nat: Can you tell about culturally responsive pedagogy and if, in some way, that's an attempt to bring things to light, or am I misconstruing it?

Jioanna Carjuzaa: All those terms are so hot now: everything is social justice and educational equity, culturally responsive pedagogy or teaching in a culturally relevant manner. I hear those terms everyday and I don't think a lot of people really understand what they mean.

I teach a class in "Indian Education For All: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Practice" and I think Indian Education For All in Montana is a really wonderful model to look at. In an ideal world, how would you implement Indian Education for All in a culturally responsive manner so that every student comes to school feeling like their cultural heritage, however they define themselves, is valued? So that their life experiences are validated in their educational journey? I think that there is nothing neutral in what we teach in schools. If you're mainstream and you identify along that line--if you're an English-speaker, you're middle-class, you're heterosexual, whatever the criteria--then you fit in and school is really comfortable for you. Anywhere you deviate and feel like your school culture is different from your home culture, it is very challenging to be successful in the school model.

Nat: What is your favorite piece of advice for aspiring teachers or activists?

Jioanna Carjuzaa: I always use the motto, "hooked on hope," because it's very challenging and difficult work. There is always going to be resistance. If you don't stay strong and surround yourself with support systems--whoever that is, and however you have to reach out--then it is a very difficult journey.

[This oral interview was edited slightly to improve readability--N.B.]

Nathaniel Barr is the Editorial Assistant for the Journal of Educational Controversy. He is completing his Master's degree in English Studies at Western Washington University. You can reach him at