CollegeBound Journey Insights

Native American College Planning Considerations: Part 2


Native American College Planning Considerations: Part 2 - Campus Experiences

Native American college planning is a specialized area of concentration in school counseling and college counseling, which includes the identification of campus experiences for Native students.  Providing this type of service requires specific training and expertise in culturally responsive counseling. Consider this recent Minnesota School Counselor Association article entitled Cultivating Cultural Responsiveness addressing this practice.

"Culturally responsive counseling means that school counselors identify, recognize and utilize the cultural strengths of students to increase positive outcomes."

In this CollegeBound Journey article series, we will address the four areas that support Native American college planning.  Part two explores campus experiences for Native youth and how to integrate this concept into the college counseling practice.

Cultural Understanding for School Counselors in Native American College Planning

Connection to Others

In many Native communities exists the story of the Three Sisters.  Below is one such story from the Mohawk Tribe:

A long time ago there were three sisters who lived together in a field. These sisters were quite different from one another in their size and way of dressing. The little sister was so young that she could only crawl at first, and she was dressed in green. The second sister wore a bright yellow dress, and she had a way of running off by herself when the sun shone and the soft wind blew in her face. The third was the eldest sister, standing always very straight and tall above the other sisters and trying to protect them. She wore a pale green shawl, and she had long, yellow hair that tossed about her head in the breeze. There was one way the sisters were all alike, though. They loved each other dearly, and they always stayed together. This made them very strong. One day a stranger came to the field of the Three Sisters - a Mohawk boy. He talked to the birds and other animals - this caught the attention of the three sisters. Late that summer, the youngest and smallest sister disappeared. Her sisters were sad. Again the Mohawk boy came to the field to gather reeds at the water's edge. The two sisters who were left watched his moccasin trail, and that night the second sister - the one in the yellow dress - disappeared as well. Now the Elder Sister was the only one left. She continued to stand tall in her field. When the Mohawk boy saw that she missed her sisters, he brought them all back together and they became stronger together, again.

While this story is typically used to described Native American farming and gardening practices, it also beautifully describes the concept of interdependence within Native communities. Interdependence asserts that people within a community depend on one another for all aspects of survival.  While each person has a gift or skill, collectively the community provides and sustains itself.

Interdependence is a connection.  Native college students rely on connections to others to support them throughout the college experience.  The college experience must provide an environment of connection in order for Native college students to succeed.

Concept of Walking in Two Worlds

The phrase “Walking in Two World” often refers to someone who is living a double life in a sense.  For Native American students, often they navigate the world through a traditional/Native cultural lens or through a non-cultural lens.  Take public school for example.  Many Native students will approach a typical school day by suppressing their traditional ways, like smudging, in order to comply with the norms of westernized school systems.  After school, the same Native students will return home to practice cultural ways with a supportive family system.  Students learn to navigate systems by essentially turning their cultural ways on and off.  This way of life is taxing and confusing.

During the college counseling planning process, counselors need to be able to identify colleges that offer a safe and supportive environment for Native youth.  Youth need to bring their authentic selves to campus and share their lived experiences with others.

Exploration of Cultural Identity through non-Academic Experiences

In the first of this series, Native American College Planning Considerations: Part 1 – Academic Opportunities, the idea that cultural knowledge acquisition is a life-long journey was explored.  The college experience needs to not only includes academic opportunities to explore Native American language and culture but also to experience culture through clubs, organizations, and special events and opportunities.

Cultural Considerations & Native American College Planning

campus experiences for native students

College Clubs & Campus Experiences for Native Students

Most colleges provide student life experiences that enhance the learning environment.  Many of these experiences are in the form of clubs or organizations.  These types of experiences can provide a sense of connection to campus and opportunity to present their authentic selves. 

When supporting Native youth towards college, counselors can identify colleges that have one or more of the following clubs on campus:

  • American Indian Business Leaders Club
  • American Indian Science & Engineering Society
  • Beading Circle
  • First Nations Club
  • Intertribal Native Council
  • Native American Club
  • Native American Student Alliance
  • Native American Student Association

Greek Life

Greek life, also known as sororities and fraternities, support students to create an intensive peer circle. These organizations bring students together through a common theme and dedication towards community service.

A small number of colleges and universities provide Native-specific Greek life.  Consider identifying colleges that provide these opportunities like the following:

Campus Experiences for Native Students: Onsite Events Based on Culture

Learning occurs both inside and outside of the classroom.  At college, students have the opportunity to participate in special events, attend guest lectures, and explore cultural activities.

Support Native youth towards colleges that encourage the involvement in extracurricular events and experiences.  Also, identify colleges that host cultural events on campus.  Below are a few examples:

  • Annual Salmon Bake
  • Fry Bread Fridays
  • Language Tables
  • MMIW Awareness Walk
  • Native American Heritage Month
  • Native American Heritage Festival & Pow Wow
  • Native American Film Series
  • Native Stole Ceremony
  • Talking Circles

Native American College Planning Insights

Moreover, providing Native American college planning requires very specific knowledge and resources.  Native youth need a support system that understand how culture is the primary consideration in college counseling.  Additionally, counselors must utilize cultural resources to aid in this process, as many college counseling resources are not designed for Native youth.

Campus experiences for Native students is just one of four areas that support in Native American college planning.  Native youth are supported by colleges that provide Native specific clubs and organizations; Native Greek life; and Native campus events.

CollegeBound Journey supports school counselors and college counselors with identifying colleges that provide campus experiences for Native youth. Check out our College Search Feature page to learn about our unique college search.

Reach out to us for more information on how we can support your work with Native youth.

As an experienced, Licensed School Counselor and Educational Consultant, Kerrie has a passion for creating programming and resources for Native youth success.  She is especially interested in developing and sharing resources that support Native American students towards college matriculation.

More to explore

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *