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The United States Needs to Produce More Native PhDs

One reason contemporary college education is not relevant to many Indian nations because there are not enough PhDs trained in American Indian Studies.

One of the reasons that contemporary college education is not relevant to many Indian nations is that there are not enough PhDs trained in American Indian Studies related issues. To make college and professional schools relevant to American Indian communities, the colleges must produce students who are intellectually equipped to address the contemporary issues confronting tribal communities from an informed cultural understanding of tribal nation goals, values, interests, and plans.

There are only a handful of American Indian Studies programs that produce PhDs. Most American Indian Studies programs are composed of experts in a variety of disciplines, usually not American Indian Studies, and usually not having American Indian nations and their concerns at the central focus of their teaching, research, publishing and community work. I do not want to argue that all American Indian PhDs should focus only on American Indian Studies issues. However, currently too few PhDs address the future and present issues of American Indian nations.

Detroit Lakes School District

Top-achieving Native American students at the Detroit Lakes School District middle school.

In the late 1960s, Vine Deloria in Custer Died for Your Sins made the same observation, that academia was serving the interests of the national culture and tradition, but providing too little support to tribal nations and Indian policy issues. Now over 40 years later, conditions have not changed enough. There are too few PhDs in indigenous studies, too little academic literature, research and policy analysis addressing Indian issues and teaching Indian college and professional students how to address and solve Indian economic, cultural, political, and legal issues.

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Over the past several decades American Indians have moved to establish self-determination, renew culture, work toward economic sustainability, made progress on international collective human rights, and on other fronts. The time has come to produce academic PhDs who have extensive knowledge of Indian history, culture, and policy. Indigenous PhDs should have strong commitments to use their learning and research in support of sustainable, culturally renewed, ecologically compatible, indigenous nations who will contribute to U.S. and tribal well-being.

The United States, and in fact all nation states with indigenous nations within their borders, need to support extensive programs for the development of academic leadership, research, policy analysis, and community outreach that support indigenous goals and values. Colleges need to be welcoming social and intellectual places that are at home with indigenous issues, worldviews, research, teaching, policy analysis, and tribal community engagement. Indigenous college students need more PhDs who are teachers and researchers and expanded course curricula that will provide training to enable them to address tribal issues from the point of view of tribal concerns and worldviews.

In 2008, New Zealand and Maori researchers and leaders celebrated the graduation of the 500th Maori Ph.D. Most of the 500 Maori PhDs were intellectually engaged with Maori issues and policies that addressed Maori community concerns. The population of Maoris is about one-tenth that of U.S. Indians. A comparable number of advanced research graduates for the United States would be 5,000 American Indian PhDs. New Zealand is far ahead of the U.S.

In the United States, between 2003 and 2008, about 65 Indians PhDs graduated on average each year. In 2007, 81 Indians PhDs graduated out of a total of 17,132, for a percentage of about .5 percent, a half of one percent. Persons who claim only Indian ancestry on the 2010 Census totaled .9 percent, nearly one percent, of the nation.

To equal the U.S. national average of Ph.D. graduates every year, twice as many Indian PhDs—about 160—need to graduate. The United States needs to invest resources necessary to annually double the production of Indian PhDs. Most new indigenous doctoral students should have training that is focused on indigenous issues and needs.