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American Indian educators’ ideas to better teach native students

The Mde Maka Ska Canoe Nations Gathering in Minneapolis brings together Indian students to celebrate culture, nature and experiential learning activities.

The fifth annual Mde Maka Ska Canoe Nations Gathering was intended to bring together Minneapolis American Indian students in a celebration of culture, nature and experiential learning activities.
MinnPost photo by Steve Date

By almost every standard measure, Minnesota’s American Indian students are at or near the bottom of achievement and graduation rates compared to other groups.

According to 2012 figures, the high school grad rate for American Indian students was 42 percent, compared to 76 percent for the general population. The dropout rate for Indians is nearly four times the statewide average.

While some culturally specific programs are experiencing success, few of our mainstream schools are doing well with native kids — at least in the way the state of Minnesota is measuring progress. Teachers, administrators and parents are all struggling to find ways to improve this.

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I accompanied some of the American Indian students from my school last week to the Mde Maka Ska Canoe Nations Gathering in Minneapolis. Mde Maka Ska (“White Earth Lake” in the Dakota language) is more well-known as Lake Calhoun, which had the misfortune to be renamed after John C. Calhoun, an outspoken supporter of slavery in the mid-19th century. 

The fifth annual event was intended to bring together Minneapolis American Indian students in a celebration of culture, nature and experiential learning activities. One school administrator described the day to me as a fun cultural and educational opportunity that is better for the kids than “the usual Valley Fair-type days at this time of year.”

I had a chance to ask several American Indian teachers and administrators about why Indian students tend to perform poorly in our schools. In this video, you’ll hear what they had to say about how schools and educators can improve teaching (and assessing) of our Indian students.