Skip to Main Content

Decolonizing Education: Native Americans

This guide was originally created for the use of instructors and students in the reACT Decolonizing Education Experiential Learning Program funded by the 2022-2023 TLTC Curriculum Grants. Specifically: ARCH460; ARCH478; ARCH601; ARCH678; CHBE473; ENCH648


The net effect of colonization stripped away Native American identities, cultures, and ways of life. The primary mission of US assimilation policies was to abolish all traces of traditional tribal cultures. The purpose was so that any Native Americans who survived violence, war, disease, loss of food, resources, and their homelands would be absorbed into mainstream US society to eventually disappear. The permanent and multigenerational effects of colonization include the loss of traditional lands, resources, languages, histories, and traditions for many Native American tribes, the work of decolonization cannot be separated from deep sovereignty. 

A western science-centric approach serves to produce new knowledge, however, it reveals little about context and outcomes (Sarewitz & Pielke, 2007). Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) are based upon learning derived from traditions, cultural practices, and rituals of everyday life and have been the foundation of knowledge systems for thousands of years (Chhetri & Chhetri, 2015). Western science and indigenous knowledge systems are complementary and enrich each other. Enos (2002) characterizes the agency of cultural reclamation to be “deep sovereignty,” i.e., agency in protecting core Indigenous values, knowledge systems, and ways of being. Enos’ deep sovereignty framework is grounded in respect for indigenous agency to self-determining language, resources (land and culture), wellness and health, and religion. This program supports Native American deep sovereignty by engaging in relationships rooted in Indigenous practices and worldviews (Django & Samy Alim, 2017).

SOURCE: reACT Native American Client Research Report (2017)