Indigenous Models of Higher Education: Understanding the Indigenizing and Decolonizing Processes
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Indigenous Models of Higher Education: Understanding the Indigenizing and Decolonizing Processes


Indigenous students are in “a state of emergency” comprising less than 1 percent of all students enrolled in college and the lowest graduation rates of all racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. (Brayboy et al., 2012). Attempts to address these low participation and completion rates often ignore the fact that state-sponsored education systems were created as mechanisms of colonization to erase Indigenous culture and people (Goodyear-Kaʻōpua, 2013). Therefore, Indigenous institutions require a close examination as sites of systemic transformation that address the colonial injustices of higher education. Using a multiple case study design, this dissertation investigates how two well-known Indigenous models of higher education indigenized – the decolonization process of operating through Indigenous values, knowledges, and worldviews – their institutions to combat settler colonialism (Alfred & Alfred, 1999; Alfred & Corntassel, 2005; Trask, 1999). Case study sites consisted of a tribal college from the United States and a wānanga, Māori tertiary institution, from Aotearoa/New Zealand. Document analysis, site observations, and interviews with administration and faculty were collected and analyzed to understand the processes that sustain institutional longevity. This study used Stairs’ (1994) cultural negotiation framework and an Indigenous place-based lens to understand these key indigenizing practices. Several findings emerged related to the principles, values, and key practices that underpin and govern Indigenous institutions. Findings offer valuable lessons of caution for educators committed to the systemic transformation of higher education in both Indigenous and settler colonial institutions. From a substantive standpoint, this analysis adds to our understanding of factors that are important to supporting Indigenous students beyond cultural inclusion and urges institutions to take responsibility in addressing the systemic settler colonial mechanisms of Indigenous erasure (Trask, 1999). This study also expands on existing literature of Indigenous institutions as expressions of self-determination, introducing the utility of values to build Indigenous institutional capacity. Overall, the analysis offers significant implications for Indigenous peoples and settler colonial postsecondary institutions to improve the academic achievement of Indigenous students.

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