Joshua McCoy, president of the Native American Student Association of Miami University, Ohio, always looks forward to the maple syrup season. He and his classmates go out to pick maple trees on campus, and then boil the juice into syrup. Participating in an annual traditional event with other members of the Miami tribe in Oklahoma made him feel closely related to his culture.
“It is amazing to be able to participate in this process that our ancestors have been doing on campus for hundreds of years,” he said of the incident that took place between January and March.
Maple sugar and other activities centered on Native American culture and traditions are not uncommon at this university, which sits on land originally occupied by the Miami tribes. These events were established over time, as tribal and university leaders slowly began to build relationships nearly 50 years ago. This tribe, also known as the Myaamia tribe, has nearly 6,000 members nationwide, mainly in the Midwest, and owns tribal land in Oklahoma.
The university now has 39 Myaamia students, the largest number of students ever enrolled, and they have received tailor-made academic and financial support. The campus also has a center run by tribal members dedicated to researching and revitalizing the Myaamia language and culture.
The university’s Myaamia Heritage Award program was launched in 1991 and has been attracting tribal students. It includes tuition and fees for four years. (According to the university website, Ohio residents’ college tuition for a year is usually $16,704, and tuition for out-of-state students is $37,380.) As a result, more than 100 Myaamia students have graduated from the university.
Although enrollment reached a record high this fall, Myaamia students accounted for only a small percentage of the 16,500 undergraduate students on the Oxford campus in Ohio. According to the 2020 fall enrollment data, Native Americans as a whole make up about 0.1% of the student population on campus.
The relationship between universities and tribes is not always strong. It began in 1972 when the Miami tribal chief, Forest Olds, visited the campus to introduce himself to university officials, and later developed amid tensions and disagreements between tribal members and campus leaders over the original name of the university’s track and field team (called the Redskins).
The campus administrator asked the tribe to officially approve its mascot after the chief’s visit. After many debates among members, the tribe agreed. The university subsequently cooperated with the tribe to make the mascot look more real through more accurate clothing and dance training, but “you can’t create a real educational experience around a mascot that automatically associates with stereotypes,” Karastrass Said tribal members and director of tribal relations at the University of Miami. The tribe signed a resolution in 1996 calling on the university to change its mascot, and the Redskins became the Red Eagles a year later.
Strass said the plan has made great strides. Three Myaamia students participated in 1991, when financial support was the only component of the program. Now, every semester, students regularly receive academic advice and take traditional courses—focusing on tribal history, language, and modern culture—for four years. They also need to use the skills they have learned in their studies to complete personal advanced projects in order to give back to the tribal community.
“We know them much better than students in campus clubs and organizations I think, partly because we are a kin-based group,” Strath said. “We are all related to each other. This is an important content that we are talking about with students. We are building this group of Myaamia families on campus, and we are really trying to realize the value of mutual care through this connection.”
Stella Beerman, a fourth-year student, said the University of Miami was the only institution she considered when she applied for college. When she was a child, she participated in a Myaamia Youth Program, and her advisor was the recipient of the scholarship. Some of her cousins also went to college.
“I know that among the thousands of children in Miami, I am one of 40 children who really understand my culture and have a truly unique personal experience here,” she said.
The university provides space and resources for scholars and educators working on behalf of the tribe to conduct research at the Myaamia Center, which, in turn, provides activities and seminars for the entire school’s students. For example, the center offers storytelling and dance demonstrations, lecture activities, and courses on traditional games and food.
Strass attributed the significant increase in Myaamia’s student graduation rate in part to the center’s student support and traditional programs. According to data from the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, which focuses on federal higher education policy, nationwide, 41% of the first full-time Native American students who attended college in 2012 graduated within six years, and Among all students, this proportion is 62%. problem. In the ten years before the center was established at the University of Miami, the graduation rate of Myanmar students was approximately 44%, which was only slightly higher than the national average. Today, their graduation rate is about 92%.
“What we learned is that creating a culturally responsive environment that is full of support and care for these students can allow them to achieve academic success in an unprecedented way,” Strath said.
Other colleges and universities have recently launched initiatives to recruit and retain Native American students and respect tribal communities. The University of Minnesota plans to pay full tuition for Native American students in the state starting in the fall of 2022. The University of Maryland held a traditional ground blessing ceremony this month to celebrate its new restaurant, named Yahentamits, in honor of the Piscataway tribe in Maryland.
The University of Miami and tribal leaders held a day of reflection on campus last month to commemorate the 175th anniversary of the tribe’s relocation from homes in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Lower Wisconsin. The students tied hundreds of ribbons around the campus to symbolize the people who were forced to leave. The Myaamia Heritage logo is designed to look like the traditional Myaamia ribbon and also appears on the uniforms of some college sports teams as a symbol of partnership.
Daryl Baldwin, the executive director of the university’s research center, pointed out that the Myaamia Center is unique as a “research and educational development institution for the Miami tribe in Oklahoma.” The center is sponsored and partially funded by tribal nations. The staff works on behalf of the tribe.
Baldwin said that when he took on the role of the center, “there is no model in this country that makes me really concerned.” Native American language revitalization is being carried out nationwide, but “to incorporate this situation into my tribe and this university That kind of relationship is brand new.”
Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, senior adviser to the president and director of the Arizona State University Indian Education Center, said that as far as he knows, no other university has a “one-to-one” partnership with a single tribe. , Especially programming “driven by the tribe.” Brayboy is a member of the Lumbee tribe and also American Indian Educational Journal And the President of Indigenous Education and Justice at Arizona State University.
“Here is a very powerful model to think about how to strengthen and build the capacity of the community by leading with the community,” he said.
He pointed out that due to rising university costs, inadequate academic preparation for tribal K-12 schools, and lack of information about the higher education system for Native American students, the enrollment rate of Native American universities has been declining for at least five years and the lack of Native American professors Guidance and role model. He believes that efforts like the University of Miami collaboration can help resolve these obstacles.
The students said that their time at Miami University strengthened their connection with Native American identities.
“Through these courses, I really started to explore what it means to be a Myaamia, to really get a deep understanding of history, and to really start to connect our culture today to some of the points that happened in the past,” Bierman said.
McCoy said he felt alienated from the community where he grew up in Washington, DC, but the plan gave him the opportunity to explore his language and culture more deeply.
For example, as part of an advanced project, he is currently developing software to help tribes better collect and visualize survey data about Myaamia youth. Beerman is developing a social media strategy to help the tribe connect with members across the country.
Breboi said that when Native American students work in community service, they tend to achieve better academic performance.
“Our understanding of underrepresented students in higher education is that if they can travel together and can travel together, then they are more likely to succeed,” he said.
McCoy believes that there is more work to be done to make the University of Miami a more inclusive place for Myaamia students.
He said that some alumni still miss this ancient mascot and blame it on the tribe. His non-local peers sometimes questioned why he and other Myaamia students received scholarships as “white representatives.”
“We don’t look like the Native Americans you see in stereotypes like mascots,” he said. “I think there is a general lack of understanding of the Myaamia Center and its functions and who the Myaamia people are.”
Baldwin said that the fact that the Myaamia have dispersed and married outside the tribal community does not deprive them of their intergenerational identity. Part of the center’s work is to help students “break the traditional definition of race when it applies to indigenous people.”
He pointed out that in general, K-12 schools in the Midwest rarely provide education about indigenous peoples, so students come to college with little knowledge.
Let students understand that “indigenous communities are people with the past, not the past. This is a huge obstacle for us,” he said.
Nonetheless, Bierman said, the university’s relationship with the tribe can serve as a model for other universities seeking to serve Native American students and look back at their past.
“I think our relationship shows that these types of relationships can work well and are very beneficial to both the organization and the community.”