CollegeBound Journey Insights

5 Native American College Programs that Support Cultural Identity

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Native American college programs can support cultural identity.  First allow me to share some of my background.  Since 2013, my role as a school counselor has been to guide Native American students towards college attendance.  I entered the job a bit naively and believed that I could simply transfer my prior college counseling experience to this new position.  Instead, I quickly learned that cultural identity is the key factor to post-high school matriculation.  This led me to identify Native American college programs that support cultural formation.

Native American Tribes and Communities (both on reservations and in urban settings) adhere to specific cultural values, beliefs, and teachings.  These elements promote Native American youth cultural identities.  Consider the cultural concept of Purpose…

For many of our Native American youth, their purpose and mission can directly sustain, build, and empower their communities.  This concept of interdependence is another cultural value within Native American communities.  While guiding our Native American youth towards college, we need to keep their cultural identity formation on the forefront.  Consider these five college programs that support our Native American youth with forming their cultural identity.

The Most Popular of Native American College Programs - American Indian Studies (AIS)

AIS college programs provide students an opportunity to learn more about American Indian history, culture, language, arts, Tribal law and policies, and social justice issues.  US News and World Report recently published Becoming a Native American Studies Major: What to Know that provides more information on this major.  These courses immerse students in cultural themes to enhance their cultural identity development.  Additionally, professors who identify as Native American teach the courses.


Did you know? The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities offers an American Indian Studies Language Track (Dakota and Ojibwe) major?

Indigenous Language

Indigenous language revitalization is a high priority among many Native American Tribes and Nations.  The Ho-Chunk Renaissance’s article Ho-Chunk Tribe looks to revitalize language highlight that there are only 10 fluent Ho-Chunk speakers living on the Winnebago Reservation.  Many Indigenous languages are becoming endangered; however, college programs in Indigenous languages support Native American students to begin or advance their Tribal language skills.  Revitalization and Indigenous language college programs not only support language acquisition, but also culture, as the two are so closely tied together.


Did you know that Blackfeet Community College is one of the only colleges offering Piikani Language?

Native American Teaching Preparation Programs

While most colleges offer teacher education programs, very few offer an actual Native American Teaching Preparation program.  The latter supports aspiring Native American teachers towards becoming educators through mentorships, cultural knowledge, Indigenous pedagogies, and more.  Additionally, these programs promote culture as a strength in the educational setting.  According to the National School Boards Association, only 1 percent of public school teachers identify as American Indian/ Alaska Native.  Native American Teaching Preparation programs support aspiring Native American educators to return to their communities to teach and mentor the next generation through culture, language, and general education.


Did you know that the University of Arizona offers an Indigenous Teacher Education Program (ITEP)?

Tribal Management

Tribal Management programs, also known as Tribal Governance & Administration, Indigenous Leadership, or Tribal Administration, support students to learn about Tribal constitutions, laws, and community programming and management. Examples can include social programs, law enforcement, education programs, and infrastructure systems.  The knowledge offered through this college program permits students to gain necessary skills, return to their communities, and then utilize their gift of leadership and governance to advocate for the needs of their community.  Learn more about Tribal Management via the National Congress of American Indians.


Did you know that Nicolet College in Wisconsin offers a ten credit program (less than 2 years) in Native American Tribal Management?

The Newest of the Native American College Programs - Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service defines TEK as “…the evolving knowledge acquired by indigenous and local peoples over hundreds or thousands of years through direct contact with the environment. This knowledge is specific to a location and includes the relationships between plants, animals, natural phenomena, landscapes and timing of events that are used for lifeways, including but not limited to hunting, fishing, trapping, agriculture, and forestry.”  Students who have the option to take TEK courses at college continue to learn about Indigenous interaction with nature, sustainability, and spirituality.  For example, ethnobotany supports the learning of how regional plants are used as food, medicine, and spiritual purposes.  These cultural concepts can be carried throughout one’s life and to the next generation.


Did you know that the College of Forestry at Oregon State University offers a Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) Lab?

Guiding Native American youth along their life’s journey is a privilege. Ensure that cultural identity formation is acknowledged and honored.  Additionally, cultural responsive resources, like CollegeBound Journey, help educators with identifying supportive colleges and programs for Native American youth.


What other college programs support/promote Native American students’ cultural identity? Share your thoughts in our comment section below.

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.

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