Technology and culture can create a future

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DENVER – From revising a museum diorama focused on the past to envisioning tribal development in the later 21st century, some of today’s Native high school students are preparing for a technology-filled future.

“As Native people, we want to move forward, but we have limited people with leadership skills and education, as well as being able to take innovative approaches,” said Calvin Pohawpatchoko Jr., a member of the Numunu (Comanche Nation), Ph.D. candidate, and Native Teachers Alliance member.

Enter “Native Science @ DMNS,” an internship exploring technology in a museum context.

The young interns’ task was to create an interactive display for Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s North American Indian Cultures exhibit hall. They learned to use technology to complete their work, but that was only one piece of the personal development fostered in the intensive, two-week program.

“No one was showing urban Indian kids how to blend technology with helping our Native people,” Pohawpatchoko said. “Someone needs to go out and do that.”

So he worked on short-term and long-term goals to meld technology and culture with an eye to building a future resource.

“No one was showing urban Indian kids how to blend technology with helping our Native people. Someone needs to go out and do that.” -Calvin Pohawpatchoko Jr., Numunu (Comanche Nation), member of the Native Teachers Alliance

In the short term, he wanted the students to learn there are career opportunities incorporating technical, cultural, educational and scientific disciplines and to offer “an open forum to broaden their view of the world.” It involved hands-on experience working with museum collections, learning Native Cultural Science, conducting research and giving a proposal presentation.

Long-term, “I’m interested in encouraging them to pursue higher education and to learn there are multiple options in careers.” Even longer term, he wants to build intellectual capacity so students can be “a resource for any kind of movement for Native people.”

The Native Science @ DMNS program also involved Talking Circles, where topics included globalization, economics, education and capacity-building; technology, literacy, adoption and education; helping tribes through technology; new leadership and innovation in Native communities, and being an agent in organizational change.

The program didn’t avoid the major topics of the day, because “a big issue is that a lot of our kids have not realized that globalization has impacted everyone” and today a corporate structure and mind-set are important. At the end of information-packed days they talked about teamwork and responsibility, self-awareness, generosity, philanthropy, advocacy and a host of other values-centric topics.

It was not all-positive all the time. Initially, students had some criticism of the diorama they were redesigning: It only included certain tribes, it seemed outdated and needed to show more about Native peoples in this century; it needed more color and contrast, and it should have more information from core people, not only from academics.

At the program’s end, however, “I lived in a bubble, but this program helped me out,” one student said. “I can start over,” said another, after a Talking Circle that included the concept that life can be changed. “I’m in touch with my culture again,” said another, and “Talking circles widen my view of the world.”

For Pohawpatchoko, who considers himself lucky for being involved in information technology early on, tribal college teaching and tribal development are goals. He envisions the possibility of institutes spun off from tribal colleges that could meet the needs of tribes but, if necessary, be free of tribal council influence. By offering remote information services, institutes could provide jobs for reservation communities.

Pohawpatchoko said the DMNS project was created to be duplicated. A similar program was held in Michigan, and he had help locally from Jami Powell, Osage, DMNS Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act assistant; Jerry Lassos, Tongva, specialist with Denver Public Schools; Ruth Starr, with DMNS’ Native American Resource Group; and Dr. Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, curator of anthropology, who arranged funding for the project as part of DMNS’ Native American science careers program.

The Denver area students who participated were Jalaka and Jerrica Burke, Diné, and Natalie Locust, Diné/Oglala Lakota/Cherokee/Northern Cheyenne, all 17 and all from Lakewood High School; Monica Ball, 16, Fort Peck Tribes, Boulder High School; Lori Dorame-Prentiss, 17, Tesuque Pueblo, Denver Center for International Studies; Vilnis Humeyumptewa, 16, Hopi, East High School; Joshua Mitchell, 16, Diné, South High School; Jessica Robinson, 16, Osage/Salish Kootenai/Eskimo/Blackfeet, Overland High School; Wesley Underwood, 17, Seminole/Chickasaw, Lincoln High School, and, from Arizona, Xavier Scott, 17, Diné, Window Rock High School.