Teachings of the Tree People: American Indian Culture

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Fall 2018, Winter 2019, and Spring 2019 quarters

Taught by

literature, writing, storytelling
social work
education, Native American studies, political science

A diversity education model is central to this program, as we explore issues of cultural diversity within the context of Native American studies.This program is intended for students committed to environmental stewardship; understanding the laws, policies, and lived experiences of American Indians; and identifying ways to create a sustainable Earth. As we work to understand the past, act in the present, and develop a vision for the future, we will draw upon the works of diverse cultural leaders, scholars, writers, and artists. We will ask: How do we cultivate creativity and resiliency in times of transformation and change? Once thriving communities and ecosystems have been disrupted, how can cultural patterns based on diversity, reciprocity, and respect be restored?

As we explore multiple ways American Indian culture matters, we will pose essential questions to understand the current state of the world, and how to survive as individuals and as peoples. We will study world history, U.S. history, and regional histories in terms of the doctrine of discovery, sovereignty, self-governance, land and economics, education and socialization of children, and liberation theory. We will learn from tribal and community members as we study local history, natural history, salmon enhancement, water resources, environmental and social justice, and traditional arts.

Each quarter we will investigate a new theme and participate in community events based on sustainable relationships between people and place. In the fall theme, River of Culture: History Template, we will highlight laws and policies that affect the lived experience of American Indians and Indigenous peoples. We will explore the role of ancestral wisdom, language, story, and the arts to make meaning and create community. In the winter theme, Creating a Sustainable Earth, we will investigate current events and explore relationships between cultural teachings, creative practices, diverse education models, scientific knowledge, and ecological understanding. We will conduct interviews and explore case studies. In the spring theme, Wisdom and the Future: Gathering Camas and Braiding Sweetgrass, we will explore cultural knowledge, ecological and social justice, and develop a vision and action plan for the future.

Students will learn to conduct ethnographic interviews, oral histories, and community action fieldwork to highlight personal and biographical stories. They will develop reciprocal relationships in the community as they interview tribal leaders, activists, government officials, and others. Responding to essential questions and issues that continue to deprive American Indians of land, economic opportunities, treaty rights, natural resources, religious freedom, access to and protection for sacred places, they will look at the history behind current headlines and political policies and track contemporary resistance and phenomenon like DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline)/Standing Rock. Students will learn about the importance of language and oral history; write personal, biographical, and expository essays and articles; participate in collaborative presentations and projects; read a variety of texts; watch films and documentaries that tell stories of how culture matters in a personal way; and participate in experiential workshops based on culture, education, and the arts, native flora, fauna, and foods, and connections between science, wisdom, and the future. See syllabus for details.

Program Details

Fields of Study

american studies community studies cultural studies education field studies history literature political science sociology writing

Preparatory For

education, social work, political science, writing, communications, visual arts, indigenous culture, history, community service, activism, law, ecology, sustainability and justice.


Fall Open Winter Open Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$100 per quarter for entrance fees to museums, cultural centers, required conferences, and supplies.