Harvard Educational Review
  1. Native American Higher Education in the United States

    By Cary Michael Carney

    New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1999. 226 pp. $32.95

    Historically, attempts to educate the indigenous people in the United States have taken various forms: Christianization, extermination, assimilation, and self-determination. In Native American Higher Education in the United States, Cary Michael Carney chronicles and analyzes approaches to education from colonial times, at places like Harvard College, the College of William and Mary, and Dartmouth College, to the present day.

    As Carney describes it, Indian education during the colonial period meant Christian proselytizing. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the strategy regarding the “Indian issue” changed to terminating tribal groups and, when all efforts to terminate “failed,” self-determination eventually allowed Indians to assume some responsibility over their affairs. Regardless of whether the efforts were considered successful, the end result, according to Carney, has always been resistance by Native peoples to a Western European form of education.

    In the first chapter, Carney’s framework is noticeable as he explains how racism and ethnocentric perspectives molded Indigenous education. He begins by focusing on the European “discovery” of the New World and the colonists’ attempts to conquer and “civilize” Indians because their lifestyle, beliefs, and philosophy differed from those of the Europeans. It was because of these differences, Carney points out, that the original nine colleges founded during this time were the first to attempt to educate Indigenous men in the Western paradigm.

    Most of the proposed schools during the colonial period never came to fruition because of controversy surrounding funding and philosophy. In chapter two Carney describes the beginning of higher education targeting Indians during this period by giving a brief historical overview of schools like Henrico, which was established in the Virginia Colony. He then discusses schools like Harvard, William and Mary, and Dartmouth, which he cites as a few of the first institutions to actively pursue educating Indians in Christianity, and also discusses factors that contributed to the failure of these conversion efforts.

    Chapter three examines changes in attitudes toward Indian education as the United States expanded. Carney notes that the U.S. government viewed Indian tribes as barriers to westward expansion during the time he describes as the Federal Period. Removal, assimilation, Christianization, and education in the form of vocational and agricultural training became standard government policy in dealing with Indians. While most tribes resisted, some groups such as the Cherokees and Choctaws eventually responded favorably by forming their own schools. Most of these efforts were short-lived due to changing federal policies and attitudes, which ultimately limited any potential growth or consistency to improve social and economic conditions on reservations.

    Chapter four describes further changes in the U.S. government’s treatment of Indians. During this time, which Carney labels the “Self-Determination Period,” government policy regarding Indian education turned from assimilation and removal to the establishment of more extensive vocational, academic, and social programs established near tribal communities and reservations. The relationship between Indian tribes and the federal government improved as a result of increased tribal control over governance and health and educational programs. There was federal recognition of tribal governments and citizenship, and federal funds were directed at increasing the number of Indian families sending their children to public schools and beyond to higher education. As Indian populations grew, tribes began their own community colleges emphasizing the need for local post-secondary education. The push for Indian education, however, amounted to a form of Western European education for many Indian children.

    Chapter five compares the development of Indian education to the Black higher education experience. Although the purpose of the comparison is not clear, the chapter does suggest that Blacks responded to developing a Western European form of education much more quickly than the Indian tribes, which, in some places, continue to resist to this day.

    Chapter six includes additional perspectives on the current state of Indian education. Carney mentions reasons why historical attempts at educating Indians have repeatedly failed due to the lack of economic infrastructure and to ill-fated plans to instill new and different beliefs and lifestyles in people who prefer to maintain their own. However, the explanations cited miss the long pattern of Western society’s refusal to understand the indigenous worldview that ultimately marginalized them.

    The final chapter provides brief examples of the current state of Native higher education. Listed are the current number of tribal community colleges in the United States and Canada. The increase in Indian students in tribal community colleges is cited as indicative of the growing willingness on the part of Indian tribes to finally understand the value of education. The book ends by discussing the implications of this growth and what the future may hold for community colleges serving Native students.

    Native American Higher Education provides introductory information for general learning about the history of Indian education. Although the research for the book was conducted in recent times, the book’s focus on the past is somewhat limiting. The inclusion of broader contemporary social, political, and economic themes could have further explained how Native American higher education arrived where it is today.

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