Want to Promote Diversity, Critical Reasoning, and Collaborative Learning? Look at the Enduring Legacies Native Cases Collection

This is the first in a series of short writings by current and retired Evergreen faculty with insights about highly effective Evergreen teaching practices and resources past and current. 

By Barbara Leigh Smith

If you are looking for interdisciplinary curriculum about the lived experiences and real-world issues of contemporary Indigenous peoples, the Enduring Legacies Native Cases Projects has developed over 130 case studies on a rich diversity of topics, from arts to activism, environmental studies to human services, entrepreneurship to government relations—and many more.  Best of all, they are all available at your fingertips.

Linda Moon Stumpff and I founded the Enduring Legacies Project in 2005, and Rob Cole and Jovana Brown later joined our team. Our aims were straightforward: to research and write original teaching cases on contemporary issues in Indian Country and offer workshops where faculty could learn how to use them. Now 16 years later we have developed the largest Native Cases collection in the US, with detailed teaching notes. We have also held 15 annual summer institutes for educators to learn how to use them. [1]

[1] Many people and organizations made this happen. The Lumina Foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Science Foundation, and many tribes, especially the Nisqually Tribe and San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, funded our endeavor.  Partner colleges include Salish Kootenai Tribal College, Northwest Indian College, Grays Harbor College, Peninsula College, and University of Alaska at Fairbanks and Anchorage, the National Indian Child Welfare Association and the Office of Native Education at the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Education.  The tribal colleges wrote many of our cases which helped address their curricular needs. And most important are the many contributions from the participants themselves. 

When we established Enduring Legacies, there was a void in the literature on contemporary Indigenous issues, especially about Northwest tribes, many of whom were (and remain) national leaders in a number of areas of concern affecting Native peoples. Linda cofounded and was teaching in the recently established Master of Public Administration Tribal Governance program. In her pre-Evergreen days she worked for the Native American Fish and Wildlife Association developing cases out of indigenous  knowledge and storytelling traditions for youth program and for the Aldo Leopold Institute at the University of Montana.

I had retired in 2004 but continued to work part time with Evergreen’s Reservation-Based, Community Determined program (RBCD, now called Native Pathways Program). I wrote and won a large grant from the Lumina Foundation to build a lower-division bridge program with Grays Harbor College and develop curriculum resources.

I became a fan of case-based learning after attending Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management when I first came to Evergreen. Housing arrangements were very purposeful for the five-week summer program for upper level administrators. Since I was from an “unusual” college, I was given a roommate from another unusual institution—Empire State College. We had a lot in common as recently established alternative colleges. The institute’s curriculum was terrific and entirely based on using cases to explore important issues in college administration and leadership in many different organizations. Some years later, after we established the Washington Center, we developed some cases on building learning communities and critical moments in diversity that were very helpful in our Evergreen and inter-institutional work.

The cases are interdisciplinary and cover a wide range of academic disciplines. They could be used in nearly every part of Evergreen’s curriculum. We also welcome and work closely with aspiring case writers. The cases are open source and available on our website (http://nativecases.evergreen.edu). More than 100 current and former Evergreen faculty and staff have attended our annual summer institutes and many use the cases. The cases have also become an important resource for the K-12 schools, especially since teaching Native history and culture is now required in Washington and a few other states, including Montana and Oregon. A 2014 article, “All Indians are dead? At least that’s what most schools teach children” by Alysa Landry, points to recent research findings by Sara Shear that “87 per cent of references to American Indians in all 50 states’ academic standards portray them in a pre-1900 context.”

Some typical questions raised in our cases include:

What are the prospects for tribes in energy production? How is climate change impacting tribes and what are they doing about it?  Should tribes share casino revenues? Should tribes legalize marijuana? How are tribes pursuing economic development? Should Indian mascots be repealed? How can salmon runs be restored and protected? How can health disparities be addressed? How can Native student success be enhanced? Whose history should we teach? Whose story should be told in public art? And many more.

Effective cases are readable narratives that involve controversy, unresolved issues, and puzzling situations that can trigger curiosity, debate and further research and discussion.  The cases and accompanying discussion prompts students to explore multifaceted puzzles and questions and develop problem solving skills as they work through the case, usually in small groups.  Cases also align with the storytelling traditions in many communities, which often promotes intergenerational learning

The Native Cases Project focuses on both producing significant new curriculum on important contemporary issues in Indian Country and enhancing student learning through a highly interactive teaching approach whose cornerstones are collaborative learning, place-based learning, and the kind of problem-based learning endemic to case studies. A fairly well developed literature on all of these educational approaches is emerging. Our project is unique in marrying these three teaching approaches and grounding it in Native American issues.

We hope you will be inspired to look at our website and try some of the cases.  Students are very enthusiastic. As one said: “These cases have lit a fire among the faculty and students.”

Students discussing cases

If you wish to respond  to this, ask questions  or share your experience with cases contact Barbara Leigh Smith, (smithb@evergreen.edu) Director Native Cases Initiative, or look at our website http://nativecases.evergreen.edu.

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