As communications specialists, we at TTG+Partners often talk about the importance of storytelling. As we think about Native American Heritage Month this November, we are reminded of the significance that storytelling plays in Indigenous communities as a way of relaying culture and traditions. Across the country, Native American college students are using this month to tell the story of their culture to fellow students by holding special programs and celebrations. And while many eyes may be on such celebrations this month, it is equally important to ensure that stories of American Indian and Alaska Native experiences are reflected in the mainstream storytelling that gets told in the news, particularly when it comes to issues related to higher education.
According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics, American Indians and Alaska Natives make up 1 percent of all enrolled students at degree-granting postsecondary institutions. This relatively small proportion should not relegate the Native American community to a silent minority—the last group considered when discussing issues related to education. American Indian and Alaska Native experiences in postsecondary education deserve to be integral parts of the conversation on equity, access, and diversity whether discussing Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) or predominantly white institutions. While the mainstream media may be silent on the issues facing Native Americans, this community is not. There are multiple examples of American Indians and Alaska Natives sharing their stories and offering in-depth analysis on their community’s experience in the educational arena.
For instance, in the most recent issue of the Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education, Cheryl Crazy Bull writes of the 40-year history of TCUs, which are constantly growing to attract a broadening array of students from both on and off tribal lands. What’s more, these institutions are helping to train new leaders for tribal communities. The American Indian College Fund’s Think Indian Blog frequently features first-person storytelling from Native American college students attending various institutions. Reading the Think Indian Blog, we learn about the story of Iva, a University of Montana in Missoula student who first went to college at age 44 and received two associate’s degrees from Blackfeet Community College before transferring to a four-year institution. In Iva’s story, we understand the important role that her TCU played in helping her find herself and her educational path. Indian Country Today provides continuous coverage, analysis, and opinions on American Indian issues, including highlighting students who are using their education to give back to their Native communities, such as in this article by writer Carol Berry.
Scanning the headlines of the nation’s top mainstream media outlets, one is unlikely to come across articles dealing with the specific experiences of Indigenous communities, and we feel that the best way to honor and celebrate Native American Heritage Month is to call attention to those working hard to bring American Indian and Alaska Native stories to the forefront. These communities are not silent about their experiences, and neither should we be.