Monday, January 31, 2011

Honoring Five UB Students with Wolf-Fire Scholarships

On January 25th, 2011 five UB students were awarded Wolf-Fire scholarships. They each received $500 for their work within Native American communities. These students will also be fellows with the Native American Center for Wellness Research. Several support systems are in place that can help these fellows be successful during their scholarly work. You can learn more about each of the fellow’s research projects here.

From Left to Right: Dinah Porter, Suzie Koehler, Lloyd Elm, Anne Lally, David Patterson, Steve Demchak, Laticia McNaughton, Mia McKie, Bill Koehler, Joe Candillo, Wayne Porter

It was a very special night with about 75 or so people in attendance. Dr. Lloyd Elm spoke about Native American educational issues and challenged us to support and work for diversity, not only in characteristics, also in thought. It is important, according to Dr. Elm, that universities value and ensure a variety of people and opinions during educational experiences.

It was an honor to be a part of this celebration. These student fellows are very good people who deserve this award and all of our support. If you happen to run into one of them, please offer up a big congratulation! 

Applications for next year’s Wolf-Fire Scholarships will begin September 1, 2011.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Institutional-Level Bullying of Native American Students

Although Justice Might Be Blind – Privilege has 20/20

On average, about 50% of Native American students drop out of high school. There are several factors contributing to these large rates at both the institutional and student levels. There are so many issues connected with why Native Americans drop out of school it can become overwhelming to know where to start if someone wanted to do something about it. A very good resource about Native American student drop out factors can be reviewed HERE.

I’ll try not to get off on a rant about how the US educational structure was/is designed for the privileged majority’s style of learning. Nor will I fume on about how, after more than 100 years or so, Native Americans have not done so well within these educational structures. What I do want to discuss, is one specific Institutional-level factor that contributes to Native American students dropping out of American schools. Researchers have come up with different labels for this particular issue such as, poor student-teacher relations, teacher’s lack of empathy toward the student, unsuitable curriculum, unacceptable testing methods, and inadequate measurement of student intelligence. I believe it is important for these labels to be combined into one encompassing classification. The most appropriate and honest label offered, for what Native American student’s experienced throughout history and even now, in American schools is – Institutional-Level Bullying.

What is Bullying?

A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.

The act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something.

Bullying is a form of abuse. It involves repeated acts over time attempting to create or enforce one person's (or group's) power over another person (or group), thus an imbalance of power. The imbalance of power may be social power and/or physical power. The victim of bullying is sometimes referred to as a target. Bullying types of behavior are often rooted in a would-be bully's inability to empathize with those whom he or she would target.

Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress.

The harmful effects of bullying on students (children) are significant. There has been a recent strong movement to address the bullying that happens to school aged children in America. What finally got the school’s attention, it seems, were the many suicides by students who were bullied. There’s a video on YouTube showing students who took their own lives after being bullied by school mates. No child should ever have to endure bullying. And the schools are correct in taking these matters very seriously. Folks in power have taken these matters so seriously that there has been state laws passed that will punish bullies for their inhuman acts. Currently there are only six states without bullying laws.
Entering The Twilight Zone

Imagine if you will… it is 2029 and foreign invaders have entered and now rule what use to be called America. They are two-billion strong with a military that is used to suppress any civil or individual disobedience. The new rulers believe in an all powerful and all knowing kangaroo god. Any other form of worship not related to kangaroo is outlawed. The new kangaroo rulers have superior thoughts, culture, and abilities, or so they say. They take the indigenous American children and teach them about the values of worshiping kangaroo and the history of how the kangaroo people came to be such great human beings. The books that the children read discuss how the kangaroo people discovered America and made it in the image of kangaroo and its values.

The new kangaroo ruling people, in their superior wisdom, decide that the indigenous Americans have too much land and that in order for their kangaroo folks to succeed, they will need this land for their own use. So, they decide to gather up all the indigenous Americans and march them to an undeveloped, unsustainable area. The kangaroo leaders, because of their generosity decide to provide the Americans with enough money to maintain a level of poverty for a while.

Most of the indigenous American leaders are murdered and any person or groups not complying with the new laws are killed, along with killing their women and children. This policy resulted in millions of indigenous Americans being slaughtered. The kangaroo educational system believes in starting the day with a pledge of allegiance to the kangaroo. The indigenous American students are now taught, using the kangaroo model, by putting each student in a small confined box with a loud speaker blasting in moral teachings. While the kangaroo children have excelled in this form of education, the indigenous American children do not. Although the indigenous parents complain that their children are not learning and getting the necessary education as the result of this new, kangaroo model, it is kangaroo laws that children must attend the school.

Institutional-Level Bullying

After several years when the kangaroo people have transformed what used to be America, into kangaroo land, I wonder how the indigenous American children, at least the ones who survived, are doing in their new schools. I’m not sure if you have heard this but, before the kangaroo folks arrived, America used to be the greatest country on Earth. Remember, God blessed America! I am sure it would be offensive to have the kangaroo people teach the indigenous American children that their people were all savages and that the kangaroo people brought civilization and righteousness to this land. I would assume the children of the old America would have a hard time in the new kangaroo educational system – because the old American educational system was the greatest in the world.

When Native Americans, in the year 2010, have to recognize and celebrate columbus day in their schools – that is Institutional-level Bullying. Native American children being made to pledge their allegiances to a flag that was the symbol of their own people’s destruction – is Institutional-Level Bullying. For Native American children to be forced into a system that is designed for the privileged conquerors – that is Institutional-level Bullying. Please take another look at the Youtube video I earlier attached. Children taking their own lives is an extremely terrible thing and I do not want any family experiencing these tragic events. If something is happening at schools that is harming children it should be taken very seriously.  It seems from this video, and other news stories, schools are motivated to get serious when certain children are harmed or harm themselves.

Native American children, on average, have some of the highest rate of suicide and mortality compared to any other group. These are school aged children, many who have dropped out of school. Again, when asked why they are dropping out of school, the labels given are, poor student-teacher relations, the teacher’s lack of empathy, unsuitable curriculum, etc. They are expected to learn in a system that is designed for American children, not Native American children. Everyday Native American children have to enter an institution that disrespects their culture, expects them to be open to learning untruthful history, and when they drop out, that institution blames the victims.

On average in the US, Native Americans have a drop out rate of about 50%. On average in the US, Caucasians have a drop out rate of about 30%. I wonder if there would be any changes if those numbers were flipped.  Recall that 75% of Native Americans drop out of college before completion. Think about the reaction if it was reported that 75% of all students drop out of American colleges.

When the privileged are harmed, there seems to be new policies, laws, and social movements to stop that harm – instantaneously. When the minority folks are harmed, the privileged go Blind! Blind to the special needs of Native American students. Blind to how the current institutional structures are not working for certain students. And Blind to the fact that, until there are changes in the way educational services are delivered to Native American children, American schools are guilty of Institutional-level Bullying.

Peace, DAP

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Native American Study Abroad Program

For those of you who know about the Native American Center for Wellness Research (NACWR) and have looked at NACWR’s website, a Study Abroad Program (SAP) is being developed. There are a couple grants the center is applying for that will help create a SAP for Native American students throughout the State University of New York System and beyond. While the project is still in the development stage, the proposed plan is to travel to Ireland for four weeks, studying and traveling around Cork, Dublin, and Galway. Students will have the unique opportunity to experience a different, but somewhat similar culture along with earning six college credit hours.

Blarney Castle

Universities have long understood the benefits of international education. There are lots of data supporting these SAPs. Some of the outcomes for students who experienced studying abroad include, increased maturity, enhanced self-assurance, incredible sense of achievement, improved communication skills, just to name a few of the many.

Although there are great experiences associated with participating in a SAP, universities usually discourage “at-risk” students from enrolling in these programs. Why you might ask? Well…common sense would indicate that at-risk students should not be distracted from the most important factors of higher education – sitting in a dirty classroom listening to a professor talk about issues that won’t be on a test!

Cliffs of Moher

There are differences in college dropout rates for all student populations; however the gap is paramount among African American, Hispanic, and Native American students (see NCES). It has been found that 75 percent to 93 percent of Native Americans drop out of college prior to completion. I would say these figures would make them an “at-risk” population.

At-risk students, according to common sense thinking, should only focus on staying in school. No distractions! Although they are very high risk from escaping…uh, I mean dropping out of college; it is best that they remain in the institution and learn within that environment.  A typical college class is not the milieu for “hands-on” or practical learning, that studying abroad offers. If students are looking for that, they should enroll in a heating and air, auto mechanic, or a specialized course for kazoo technology. Apparently SAPs are for students who are accustomed and have mastered the standard institutional learning environment.

Dublin Castle

Well…as it turns out, SAPs just might be what at-risk students need. In 2000, researchers with the GLOSSARI project started a large-scale effort to document the academic outcomes of study abroad programs across the thirty-five institution University System of Georgia. Some ten years later, they discovered that “students who study abroad have improved academic performance upon returning to their home campus, have higher graduation rates, and have improved knowledge of cultural practices and context compared to students in control groups.” It was also revealed that studying abroad helps, rather than hinders, academic performance of at-risk students.
According to a GLOSSARI associate it has always been the common belief that students who are at-risk of dropping out of college should be discouraged from studying abroad. However, this study finds that studying abroad can actually be an intervention to improve retention rates for college students. Studying abroad does not derail their educational efforts. Instead, it actually focuses their work.
College Cork
So, one of NACWR’s goals is to assist Native American students successfully obtain a degree. By developing and offering a study abroad experience for Native American students, we hope to greatly impact learning and achievement. If you know a Native student enrolled in the SUNY system (State University of New York) or any Native students enrolled in another university and think they would be interested, please have them contact me. If you are a current student, do the same. I will update this blog and the NACWR website as things progress.
Peace, DAP

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


“Let all that is Indian in you die! You cannot become truly American Citizens – industrious, intelligent, cultured, civilized until the INDIAN within you is DEAD.” These are the words of Rev J.A. Lippincott who, in 1898, gave the commencement speech to Carlisle Indian School graduates. I’ve heard this and other similar statements before, but for some reason when I recently read this, it hit me very differently. I have been reading materials on boarding schools lately and reviewed a book written by Michael C. Coleman titled, American Indians, the Irish, and Government Schooling: A Comparative Study.

About the same time as the US government was setting up Indian boarding school policies, the British government was also developing policies to educate their own “savages” over in Ireland! Coleman does a good job remaining emotionally detached as he lays out the evolution of these similar policies. While I’m reading Coleman’s text, it just so happened that the shooting in Arizona consumed all of the news on TV. If you have not heard about this story it is here. Although there were six people killed, the majority of the news topic was and has been on the US congress person who survived being shot in the head. Reading this book and watching the news caused me to think more deeply about what it might take to alter someone’s “being.”

It seems we know the familiar story of someone getting killed. What we are waiting for and watching is to see if the congress person who was shot in the head will survive and if so, will she remain who she was. She was a certain type person with specific characteristics that made her who she was. Now that her brain has been damaged, what will she become? Is who she was -- DEAD?

Thinking of Parables

I heard my Grandma speak many times about a great teacher who traveled around talking to folks about the ways of a certain religion. He had a teaching technique where he would make a strong point by telling stories in a way that made sense to the person being taught. This technique is considered teaching in parables. For instance, if this man was talking with…say…a fisherman, he would talk about fishing. He would say something like, ‘Come, I will make you fishers of men.” If he was speaking with builders, he would make a statement like, “build your house upon a sound foundation.” And when he would meet with academic professors, he would say, “Those who can’t do, teach.” Well... not so much that last one!  

Anyway, I like this style of teaching. I can always get more out of a common sense story related to a topic I know something about. When I thought about the boarding school policies of the US and their intended goals, I see them as being more horrific than a policy of straight out genocide. When a person is killed, they remain who they are/were. When we speak about some of the great Indian leaders who were killed throughout our history, although they are not physically present – the INDIAN in them is not DEAD. Killing does not alter or remove the INDIAN from within the Indian. Removing the INIDIAN from an Indian is impossible – at least this is what I hope we have all learned.

The WOLF Is DEAD in You

What is the story (parable) of another living being that experienced similar events from a policy intended to remove it or its “being?” It seems it could be the story of the Wolf. There was a time when the Wolf was viewed as being a ruthless killer. It had the reputation as being an animal that solely could destroy the way of life for new settlers – The Lone Wolf! Because of this label, Wolves could be killed without any regard – which they were.

As it turns out, the Wolf is a magnificent creature. There is no such thing as a lone Wolf. They live within a structured community and select a mate for life. They speak to each other, have rules, systems, and can survive without any human's help! When the Wolf was finally eradicated from certain parts of the US, like Yellowstone Park, it resulted in that entire ecological system being severely disrupted and out of balance.

There was no way to kill the WOLF in the Wolf. Left alone, Wolves will carry out their purpose as they have ever since there were Wolves. Now, we could kill every Wolf but that would not alter the idea of the WOLF -- it would only devastate the ecological environment. A person cannot kill the WOLF within the Wolf, even if they cut its hair, remove it from its territory, remove its pups, train it to sit and roll over, or force it to graduate from obedience school. Humans will never be able to alter the “being” of another living creature through policy development. When you see a Wolf, what you are really seeing is the WOLF. Those two items are one-in-the-same. They are inseparable. Just like when you see a cake, you are not viewing each individual ingredients making up the cake, nor can you remove those individual ingredients like the eggs, flour or milk. The same is true when you see an Indian. The ingredients making up the INDIAN once born into the Indian is inseparable!

The best statement during a commencement speech would be…“Let all that is INDIAN in you flourish! You cannot become truly HUMAN – until the INDIAN within you is ALIVE.”
Peace, DAP

Friday, January 7, 2011

Who Really Owns or Who Should Own Research Data?

The Bayh-Dole Act, an act established in 1980 by Sens. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) and Bob Dole (R-Kan.), deals with intellectual property occurring from research. Basically, the federal act gives universities the control over intellectual property that results from federal funds. As a federally funded researcher working within a university, it is important to understand and abide by that federal law, I guess!

After a couple readings of the law it seems to suggest that the university can retain the rights to any intellectual property resulting from research that is conducted as part of that university. So…I studied other writings on the law hoping to clear up any misgivings about this issue, and the result -- I have not a clue what this means in the real world of conducting research as it relates to the true ownership of data and other research funded products!

I do understand that if a federally-funded researcher, working in a university, discovered a pill that could finally cure, say… hemorrhoids, that researcher couldn’t setup a business selling this product without a financial cut going back to the university. It appears, before the Bayh-Dole Act, the federal government would get all of the rights and money to any new research discoveries. As the result of the Bayh-Dole Federal Act, the university would get some of the financial benefits from the new hemorrhoid pill’s cure. Can you guess how much money could be made by curing all these pains in the asses?!

What remains unclear is the issue I am most interested in – who really owns data and other products resulting from funded research that may not have any foreseeable market value?   

Typical Research Study Scenario

Let’s say I was awarded a five year federally-funded grant to study technology use habits of college students. I budget for the grant to pay part of my salary, health benefits, travel, and some supplies I need to carryout this study (e.g., new laptop computer, printer, scanner, video recorder for interviews, and office supplies).  Also as part of that budget I buy 40 laptop computers and 40 smart phones. I plan to study the technology use differences between African American and Caucasian students.  I will recruit 80 total student volunteers, 40 African Americans (20 with laptops and 20 with smart phones) and 40 Caucasians (20 with laptops and 20 with smart phones) and follow them using their new technology products for three years. I hypothesize that one racial group of students will have lower rates of usage than the other group.

Now let’s say that three years have past and the study is over. It seems the policy of the university is that all products resulting from grants (in this case, laptops and smart phones) are to be returned to the university. There is a policy that these things become to property of the university. Also, although I can continue using the specifically supplies I brought for my use, such as the laptop, printer, scanner, etc, they are also the property of the university.  That’s the university’s policy.

I go back to the students and say the study has ended and I need the laptops and smart phones back. I present them with a $30 gift card for volunteering and thank them for their work. I’m not sure how, but the study’s products get distributed back into the university’s possession and inventory. Now…what about the data that results from doing research with those students -- who really owns that data?  I bet it is safe to assume the university owns this as well.

Studying some special groups, like Native Americans, should have a different policy

If you’ve reviewed any health and wellness data related to Native Americans, then you know that this groups suffers disproportionately compared to any other group.  For instance, of the top 10 lowest income counties in the US, 7 are located on reservations and the one in Alaska, 93% report being Native American on the 2000 US census.
Top 10:
  1. Buffalo County, South Dakota (82% Native American)
  2. Shannon County, South Dakota (94% Native American)
  3. Starr County, Texas (88% White)
  4. Zieback County, South Dakota (73% Native American)
  5. Todd County, South Dakota (86% Native American)
  6. Sioux County, North Dakota (85% Native American)
  7. Corson County, South Dakota (61% Native American)
  8. Wade Hampton, Alaska (93% Native American)
  9. Maverick County, Texas (71% White)
  10. Apache County, Arizona (77% Native American)

(Note: Thank goodness for Texas! Out of the top 100 poorest counties in the US, 17 are located in Texas, followed by 16 in my home state of Kentucky!)
(Note 2: I was going to use the saying, Don’t Mess whiff Texas, but that saying is trade marked by the Texas Department of Transportation. I purposely misspelled the word “with” hoping to avoid the unauthorized use of the trade mark and subsequently being placed on death row in a Texas prison.) 

Studying the factors associated with why Native Americans have such poor rates of health, and then doing something about that should be a high priority.  Any researcher having the privilege of studying/working with Native Americans must do so with an eye toward complying with federal law, university policies, and what I will suggest is the most significant factor – the Native community’s best interests.

Some policies should be developed with some common decency and a level of morality rather than collecting every nickel and dime that is available to the university. Let’s say a researcher was awarded a small grant to study the attitudes within a specific, large Native family living on a certain reservation. The plan is to visit the family and spend a few hours asking questions and collecting data. As part of the research grant, funds are available to cover the cost of a large feast as a reward to the family for providing information to the researchers.

Leftovers and Research Data

Following the university’s policy, it seems the researchers, after all the information was gathered from the native family, would require that any/all food leftovers be collected and returned promptly to the university!  Can you imagine that!? What type person would have the cojones to follow this policy on their way out of that family’s home? If a computer would have to be returned to the university, what about a half pot of corn soup? What about that data collected during that visit? Who really should owns that data?

At my university the policy states that research records, “as at other research universities, both the research director and the University have rights and responsibilities concerning custody, maintenance, retention, use of and access to original research data.” It continues with, “each faculty research director is responsible for: (a) retaining original research data for a period of three years following completion of the project or publication of the data whichever comes later.” The policy goes on to state that data “are to be retained by the University for a period of at least three years after completion of the research project for which the data were collected.”

If I leave the university or asked to leave as the result of posting this here document, I “may take copies of research data for projects on which [I] have worked. Original data, however, must be retained at [my university] by the research director.”

Reciprocal Partnership

I know there are tribes out west that has a strong relationship with universities and researchers. Any products resulting from research such as computers, data, office supplies, etc. goes back to the tribal community.  The example I used earlier about studying students using smart phones and laptops, if that study was done within one of those strong Native-university partnership communities, those products would go to tribe – not the university. The materials I used as part of that research, my laptop, printer, scanner, would also go to the tribe. That tribe could put those items to use for their own people just as well as a university finding ways to reuse laptops and other supplies. 

It seems a policy requiring products to be returned to Native American communities should apply to any university researching these communities. While the Bayh–Dole Act could remain, there is no moral justification to have a one-way research policy that takes research products from Native communities without returning any products. The reason the Bayh-Dole Act became law was because, during the relationship between the university and the federal government, the university was not directly benefiting from its research. The same can be said of the current research relationship between the university and Native American communities.  

I am very interested in hearing from folks who have Research University-Native American community partnerships where there are collaborative, productive policies. Being able to learn from these existing collaborative policies would be a great way to move toward a meaningful, productive, moral, reciprocal partnerships.

Peace, DAP