Situational Factors for a Native Studies course


The Native Studies courses at Northwest Indian College range from 5 to 25 students. I usually see about 12  to 15 students in the course Reclaiming Our History. The course is lower-division. The course number is CSOV 120. Currently the class is taught twice a week for 2 hours. The online course will most likely meet during midterms and finals week face-to-face and the rest of the quarter will be online.

Expectations of External Groups

The society I will be addressing in this question consists of the larger Lummi community. Society expects these students to know how to write, to know who they are as Lummi people, and where they come from. Society expects these students to know where our original territory is and what their Lummi name was. Northwest Indian College is accredited through the NWAACU. This accreditation association expects Northwest Indian College’s work to lead toward fulfilling their mission. This will not affect this course because the NWIC Mission is, Through education, Northwest Indian College promotes Indigenous self-determination and knowledge. The course Reclaiming our History helps to fulfill that mission. The Native Studies program has a curriculum map that informs the institution of what Program Outcomes will be assessed in what courses and at what level of proficiency. This course will intend to meet Program Outcome #1: Skills of Leadership at the beginning level proficiency and emerging level of proficiency.

Nature of the Subject

I believe this course is convergent. It is a history course and the traditional knowledge of our people is not up for interpretation. There has been too much misinterpretation in the past. This course is primarily cognitive. There are some field trips that students have taken in the face-to-face modality. But if this course is redesigned as an online course it is unlikely that the faculty could plan field trips. I think Native Studies in general is always in a situation where competing paradigms are challenging each other. Through colonization, Indigenous knowledges have been seen as “less than”. And Western ways of knowing are always seen as the oldest forms of knowledge and superior. With this in mind, the reintroduction of Indigenous knowledges into education, even if the education is for their rightful owners, is met with some resistance. It really depends on the student and their beliefs.

Characteristics of the Learners

Most of the students at Northwest Indian College are full-time students and many have full-time jobs and families. In the last 2 or 3 years Northwest Indian College has seen an increase in traditional students, or students coming right out of high school. But in the past the student demographics were mainly non-traditional, older, and full-time employed students with families to support. If someone were to ask students at Northwest Indian College why they are in school, I could confidently say the 2 main answers would be 1) better their tribal community, and 2) find better employment to support their families. As an instructor of this course I am always surprised about how much knowledge Lummi students don’t have in this area. Very few students who have taken this course know traditional fishing methods or how to prepare native foods. And I see the same lack of knowledge in history lessons that are after the time of contact like early settlement of Whatcom County and the Treaty.

Characteristics of the Teacher

In order to teach this course the instructor needs to have a general knowledge base about the history of Lummi. The instructor also has to have a knowledge based about their own family history that is deeper than surface knowledge. The instructor has to have an understanding of Indigenous knowledge systems that existed and still exist today in Lummi. The online modality of this course will be new. There are no instructors that have taught it. I have a high level of competence around the topic. As the administrator of the Native Studies program I will ensure the next instructor is confident in their own knowledge base. I do have an instructor in mind. She is a recent graduate of the Native Studies bachelors degree. She currently does not have experience in teaching. But she does have some of the foundational knowledge base that is needed to teach this course.

Special Pedagogical Challenge

Students will begin to see the use of Indigenous knowledges in modern times as valuable to their lives. Students will no longer see our Indigenous history as strictly in the past. We still live it.

3 thoughts on “Situational Factors for a Native Studies course

  1. Hi Lexie,

    You covered most of the relevant situational factors for your course thoroughly. Tell me a bit more about your learners? In addition to their attendance demographics, are there aspects particular to your students that you’ll need to accommodate in your design? What kinds of learning activities will you be asking them to perform? How are your students prepared for completing those activities? How do your students engage around subject material in an online context? How do they demonstrate their understanding?

    The really important thing about situational factors is how they constrain or empower course design.

    Also, do I understand correctly that the instructor you’re considering has recently graduated with a bachelors degree, and has no teaching experience? Has she taken an online course before? What special situational factors might relate to someone teaching a course for the first time – not to mention teaching online for the first time?

    Lastly, why the face-2-face meetings at mid-terms and at the end of the semester? What’s the purpose of those activities. I’m asking because one of the big things about online design is to be mindful of your purpose.

    The subject area of your unit is fascinating and I look forward to seeing your unit evolve.


  2. I wish were going to be able to take each others classes at the end of this! Your passion and your knowledge for the topic shines through. Of course, I love history! I always think online would be a great place for history because of the doors the technology opens. Like I think it would be neat to have students tasked with creating a virtual world re-enactment of an event. They would have to do all the research of what is and is no historically accurate and mentally transport themselves in time creating empathy for the daily life while at the same time getting the bigger picture. Oh for time and money, right! Well, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes and learning a little about Lummi history in the process.

  3. ” I think Native Studies in general is always in a situation where competing paradigms are challenging each other. Through colonization, Indigenous knowledges have been seen as “less than”.”

    UGH! I struggle with this! I’ll admit it. It’s very hard to distance myself from Western ways of knowing and approaching knowledge…I’ll sometimes read Indigenous writings and I’ll be sooo critical, without wanting to be or meaning to be, because I’m looking for citations, methods, a distance between history and spirituality, etc. and it’s very difficult to stop, even when I make an effort.

    Teaching “Native Studies” (etc.) in Western schools presents such a bizarre challenge. It’s sort of inherently colonized and Westernized…it’s all about APA style, grades, anthropological terms, etc. and when you take a step back to look at everything it can be very overwhelming to realize just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

    How do you go about combating this attitude? Do you see a lot of students who’ve internalized this attitude? Do you have to spend a long time at the start of the course talking about this? I imagine by this point in their lives, it has the potential to be pretty seriously controlling.

Leave a Reply