John Hopkins discusses native educational programs at faculty lunch series

Amanda Chappell, Staff Writer


On Oct. 20, the second installment of this year’s Friday Faculty Lunch Series took place. Each Friday at noon, the Center for Scholarship and Teaching hosts a time for Saint Martin’s University faculty and staff members to come together and enjoy a lunch prepared by Bon Appetit Management Company and to hear a presentation from one of their fellow colleagues. These weekly presentations provide a great way for new and returning faculty to get to know their fellow colleagues and learn about their research. On this particular date, the presentation was done by John Hopkins, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Diversity and Service Initiatives. Hopkins presented what he called “the 30-minute condensed version” of his dissertation.

Hopkins studied philosophy at the University of Washington in 1996, where he wrote his dissertation. He entitled it “Conversations That Matter: Decolonizing the Inclusive Discourse of American Indian Education Reform.” His goal was simple: to “bring together western and indigenous people using philosophical approaches,” however, Hopkins soon realized that this was easier said than done.

In 1999, Montana released the Indian Education for All Act (IEFA), in which the state of Montana was to recognize the unique heritage of American Indians and commit to preserving their cultures. The IEFA stated that, “every Montanan, whether in Indian or not, is encouraged to learn about American Indians in a culturally responsive manner and every educational agency and education; all school personnel should have an understanding and awareness of Indian tribes and work effectively with Native students, parents, and tribal.” The IEFA is an important landmark in Native American education, because it had the opportunity to break down barriers between diverse groups. However, just like any other act, there were problems that arose.

The philosophical problem that Hopkins came upon in his research was broken down into three major points: “1) inclusive conversations sidestep the issue of distrust that exists between native and non-native groups, 2) if trust already exists, then it can be promoted. But if trust doesn’t, then it can’t be promoted without addressing the reasons why it doesn’t exist, and 3) Native and non-Native groups need to turn to history.”

Hopkins came up with the term “survivance” in which he combined the words survival and resistance. This word appears several times throughout his presentation, as he believes it’s the most accurate term to describe the attitude that Native students need to get through attending a white school.

The process that Hopkins came up with in order to settle this issue was this: break up a classroom into two groups, settlers and indigenous people. The job of the settlers is to be quiet and listen, while the indigenous talk about what it’s like to attend a white school. With the indigenous students speaking about their experiences, and the settlers having to just listen, it shifts the perspective on those who don’t understand the thoughts and feelings of Native American students.  

Essentially, that was his goal all along, for both Native and non-Native student–to be on the same level of understanding, and with that exercise, hopefully, the settlers can understand how tough it can be for the indigenous students.

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