Global Lessons From Indigenous Education

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Roxanne Gould. (Photo by David Quisenberry)

As a mother and grandmother, Roxanne Gould is “ever mindful of the responsibility that we have to future generations and the legacy that we’re leaving for those that come after us.” Early in her career she received a Kellogg Fellowship that enabled her to connect with indigenous people around the world. She is doing research now on indigenous women’s water traditions and implications for sustainability as an assistant professor in the environmental education department of University of Minnesota in Duluth.

Growing up, an Indian girl in South Dakota, to teenage parents and later a single mom, none of this [exposure to global education] was on my radar screen. I knew that I wanted to go to college because my mom told me ever since I could remember, that I GET to go to college. She’d say “I’m saving money for you and you GET to go to college someday.” She never got to go to college until after she raised us.

Over the course of my career in education, I have traveled to and worked in Guatemala, Cuba, Sweden, Norway, China, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Bolivia and Cuba. I met people at all those places who were indigenous. They were so welcoming. I listened to their stories. They had such a desire to connect.

Within our tiny indigenous communities, there are things we can do. It’s important to work on a grassroots level, but if we come together we can create a greater voice. We can make a larger impact. There are 100 million indigenous people in this hemisphere. That’s a lot of indigenous people.

Guatemalans survived genocide attempt after genocide attempt. Somehow they still were able to keep their culture and languages alive. It was incredible to experience the political consciousness of the Maya people.

New Zealand was where I focused more specifically on indigenous education and how we could take good ideas and use them to benefit indigenous education in the United States. The Maori are so determined to create something better, yet they’re so poor. We Westerners think money is the answer to everything, but they said, “the heck with it, we’re just going to start our own [educational system.]”

The Maori have a metaphor, an old story, about an octopus. Te Wheke A Toi has these big arms that reach out to all these different places in the world, finding good ideas to bring back home and make them Maori.

That’s what I think of my role in these travels: looking for good ideas to bring home to see what we can do to make things different. To breathe new life into old traditions and create models that work as we educate Native students.

Roxanne Gould is an indigenous educational design consultant. She is Odawa and Ojibwe, Grand Traverse and Little Traverse bands of Michigan. This excerpt is used with permission from the Phillips Indian Educators “Conversations With Indigenous Elders” series. Find the full story at: