ERIC Identifier: ED458062
Publication Date: 2001-10-00
Author: Shutiva, Charmaine L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Career and Academic Guidance for American Indian and Alaska
Native Youth. ERIC Digest.
Full of determination and courage, American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN)
students strive to maintain their heritage while learning to be successful in
the dominant culture (St. Germaine, 1995). Although academic and career success
are worthy goals, AI/AN students can bear a heavy price to achieve them.
Outwardly and inwardly many AI/AN students face challenges to their
"Indianness," especially in relation to their ongoing ability to use their
tribal languages; participate in religious ceremonies; take pride in tribal,
clan, and family ancestry; and remain faithful to tribal beliefs and value
systems (Baruth & Manning, 1992; Locust, 1988; Rodriquez,1997).
To provide effective and responsive career and academic guidance for AI/AN
youth, teachers and counselors need to be aware of underlying cultural values
and beliefs that can affect students' choices about academic success and pursuit
of a career. This Digest briefly describes (a) current demographics and trends
in AI/AN education, (b) cultural values and beliefs that provide a context for
education and counseling, and (c) effective and responsive career and academic
guidance practices for working with AI/AN students.
CURRENT DEMOGRAPHICS AND TRENDS IN AMERICAN INDIAN/ALASKA
The 2000 Census revealed the population of American Indians
and Alaska Natives to be 2.4 million people, which represents about 0.9 percent
of the total U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001). AI/ANs are a relatively
young population, with about 34 percent under the age of 18, compared with the
total population, which has about 26 percent in this age category (Meyer, 2001).
More than 49,000 students attend Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)-operated or
funded tribal schools, while nearly 400,000 (89 percent) attend public and
private schools (U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2001). About 38 percent of AI/AN
students attend rural schools (NCES, 2000).
There is some very encouraging news about AI/AN educational participation:
* AI/AN enrollment in colleges and universities grew by
67 percent between 1976 and 1994--a remarkable increase; the number of
bachelor's degrees awarded grew by 86 percent, and the number of associate
degrees awarded grew by 95 percent during that same time period (Pavel, et al.,
The average salary in 1994 for AI/AN bachelor's degree recipients was slightly
above the average for all recipients; and the three most frequent fields of
study were business and management, social sciences, and education (Pavel, et
In the fall of 1996, 134,000 non-Hispanic American Indians were enrolled in
colleges and universities, up from 84,000 in 1980 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
Along with the good news are some areas of concern:
Only 65.6 percent of all AI/AN persons 25 years old and over have a high school
diploma or higher and only 9.4 percent had a bachelor's degree or higher,
according to the 1990 census (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
SAT scores were below the national average--though above scores of African
Americans, Mexican Americans, and two other Hispanic groups (National Center for
Education Statistics, 1999).
It is evident from these brief statistics that educational progress has been
made in the past few decades but challenges remain.
NATIVE VALUES AND BELIEFS
"The belief system is the bond that holds civilizations together, and is the
small voice inside of each of us that urges us to be true to what we have been
taught. As Native people, we cannot separate our spiritual teachings from our
learning, nor can we separate our beliefs about who and what we are from our
values and our behaviors." (1988, p.329)
understanding of Native traditional values and beliefs that influence AI/AN
students' behavior is key to providing them meaningful career and academic
guidance (Bearcrane, Dodd, Nelson, & Ostwald, 1990; Sanders, 1987;Szasz,
Giving and sharing. Tribal leaders across the United States advise youth to
go to college or technical school, get an education and "then come back and help
your people." In giving this advice, tribal leaders are expressing the values of
"giving and sharing" that have enabled tribes to maintain group unity and
Giving and sharing are expressed in many different ways. In the traditional
American Indian world we are taught to share our goods (car or truck, ceremonial
items, meals, education) and good fortune (work earnings, casino winnings) for
the betterment of the family and community. Examples include using your vehicle
to take grandma to the grocery store, or auntie to the laundromat, or
cousin-brother to catch his ride to go firefighting (of course, never asking for
gas money). Going away to college to get a degree and then returning to the
reservation or the city to develop or work for programs that serve the community
are also expressions of giving and sharing that are valued and "respected."
Giving and sharing are the principles expressed in pow-wow giveaways, in the
feast days of New Mexico's Pueblos, and in the potlatches of the Northern
coastal tribes. It is considered an honor to be able to give away items that
families may have worked days, months, or years preparing, saving for, cooking,
or baking. In the AI/AN world it is better to give than to receive.
Counselors can support these values by providing financial advice as part of
career counseling. Students may need to set up saving accounts so they can
contribute necessary items when ceremonies arrive and not be stressed
financially. Also, even for students it is important to contribute to family and
community life in a variety of ways, such as providing car rides, using new
skills to work for programs that help the Native community, or sharing talents
by making cultural items (e.g., rattles, drums, moccasins, potteries).
Continuing to give and share can help an AI/AN youth to blend his/her two worlds
and ultimately succeed in both.
Glory to the group. Another important traditional value is "group
cohesiveness" or glory to the group, not to individual attainment. This value is
based on the core belief that wellness is harmony in spirit, mind, and body
(Locust, 1988). Students who are singled out for an outstanding academic
accomplishment can experience confusion because rewarding the individual can
jeopardize group cohesiveness. To help support this value and reduce cultural
conflict at school honors assemblies, teachers and counselors should consider
also asking parents, guardians, and grandparents to standup and be recognized as
each student receives an award. This type of honoring is exhibited at pow-wows
when head dancers are honored.
Time to observe and reflect. Adequate "time to observe and reflect" prior to
participation and communication is another important value shared by many AI/AN
tribes. This value, too, is based on the core belief that wellness is harmony in
spirit, mind, and body, and is also grounded in a world view that is circular
rather than linear. Many AI/AN students learn to do things through observation,
imitation, and direct experience of real-world activities. As a result students
may not be highly verbal or overtly involved in classroom or counseling
discussions. This "does not" mean they are not learning.
Providing opportunities to learn through hands-on cooperative experiences
will support their success. For example, a group counseling experience to teach
about careers could involve students designing and building a model bridge. This
counseling method would effectively teach the various types of work roles
involved, such as being a surveyor, an architect, a highway safety inspector, a
truck driver, a welder, a construction worker, an environmentalist, and a
geologist. These are all examples of careers that are valuable and needed on
Indian reservations as well as in cities. Providing career counseling that can
help students observe and reflect on the possibilities for employment on their
respective reservations is also strongly endorsed and supported by tribal
Other needed time to reflect, much supported by tribal leaders, includes
participation in the traditional religious ceremonies that help AI/AN students
to affirm their tribal identity. It is not uncommon for an AI/AN student to
participate in a traditional ceremony one day and attend high school or
university the next. Many ceremonies and rituals are based on the belief of a
prevailing wellness-unwellness duality that surrounds and permeates the
ceremonial functions. The primary focus of these ceremonies is to maintain a
harmonious balance between mind, body, and spirit of all living things (Locust,
1988). Religious ceremonies can sometimes take many days. Because participation
in these ceremonies may affect an AI/AN student's attendance and academic work
it is recommended that counselors assist AI/AN youth by helping them plan to (a)
set up tutorial services if necessary and (b) communicate ahead of time with
teachers about the reason for the absence so teachers can become more respectful
of and sensitive to cultural differences. Counselors can also support students
by understanding and affirming participation in religious ceremonies, even when
participation poses a risk to academic or career success, acknowledging the
importance of ceremonial life for the maintenance of wellness.
PROVIDING EFFECTIVE AND RESPONSIVE COUNSELING
A variety of
other efforts can help teachers and counselors provide effective and responsive
encourage strong and regular involvement of elders and tribal government leaders
in the teaching and counseling of Native students
provide consistent training of non-Native teachers and counselors in the
cultural values and social factors affecting AI/AN students as they pursue their
ease restrictions that block schools from employing valued Native community
members who can serve as positive role models
increase AI/AN students' knowledge about their options by providing a more
accurate understanding of how tribal cultures interact with the complex,
multicultural American society
validate both the traditional and contemporary cultures of students, recognizing
the contributions that AI/ANs have made in shaping the larger multicultural
develop and seek scholarship funds that attach social obligations for AI/AN
students to give something back in return
develop long-term mentoring relationships between students and AI/AN
This statistic was derived by calculating the total number of AI/AN students who
attended schools designated in locale codes 6 (small town) and 7 (rural) as a
percent of the total number of AI/AN students counted on the Common Core of Data
for the 1997-98 school year.
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