Course Description: Exploration of contemporary issues relevant to Native American tribes and communities, utilizing critical thinking and problem-solving skills relevant to contemporary issues within the Indian Country to develop and implement a service project for a tribe or Native American community
Native Learning Community and Service Learning
In 2010, Dr. Heather Shotton began working with the Chickasaw Nation's Chokka' Kilimpi' Learning Community on OU's campus. They worked together on a project to both connect Chickasaw students to their tribe while also teaching them how to give back to their community. While this was service learning in essence, it was not yet officially an OU course.
"It was a really great model that we would later use to help develop the Tribal Service Learning Course," said Shotton.
This initial project showed Dr. Shotton and the Director of Chokka' Kilimpi' Service Learning Community, the type of impact service learning has both on the community and students. One of the most critical lessons the students learned, Shotton said, was how to work with tribes. She described the importance of listening to the needs of the community.
"What has typically happened when Universities have worked with tribes or academics have worked with tribes is that they come in with this very paternalistic mindset that they have the answer, but the students really had to learn how to work with the representatives from the Chickasaw Nation and learn how to listen about what the Chickasaw Nation wanted and needed," Shotton said.
After this first semester, Dr. Shotton and the Chickasaw Learning Community decided to turn this joint effort into an official credited NAS course. This course was originally targeted towards Chickasaw students and had the same goal of connecting the students to their Nation. However, Shotton wanted the students to be able to utilize a course in NAS.
"We wanted to see this class help the students understand historical issues, to understand the Chickasaw Nation, to understand tribal governance, and to understand and learn about project development all the while tying this all back to the broader issues in their project and their classes."
Unlike other service learning courses, The Chickasaw Service Learning Course stretched the length of three semesters. The first semester primarily focused on building a relationship with the Chickasaw Nation, the second semester was spent developing the project, and the third semester was when the students finalized their project, put it into practice and presented their work to the Governor Anoatubby and his governance board.
This was a very unique way we handled this service learning course. We offered it under our special topics section so we had the flexibility."
This experience showed Dr. Shotton and the NAS department that their students wanted a service learning course.
"Because it had worked well with the Chickasaw Nation and the Chokka' Klimpi' Learning Community, we wanted to make this more permanent within the NAS department. From an indigenous perspective, the values of reciprocity are really central to our communities. From an NAS perspective, what is central to the discipline is engaging in work that will ultimately benefit tribal communities and tribal nations. From this we transitioned into the Tribal Service Learning Course. We wanted to see what other ways our students could bring impact to the Native community by working with other tribes and potentially National Native organizations," Shotton said.
In the Fall of 2013, the first Tribal Service Learning Course was offered. This first class worked with the National Indian Education Association. NIEA needed help developing a survey to send to their members to get a picture of what the needs of their Native educators were.
The OU students developed this survey, administered it in South Dakota at the NIEA conference, analysed the data, and gave recommendations back to the Executive Director all in a semester.
"This experience showed the students the responsibility and privilege of being at a University. It emphasized our value of using higher education to give back to our communities," Shotton said.
Currently, the NAS Department rotates professors of their service learning course in an effort to make the most impact on Indian Country while also diversifying the experience and perspective of the professor for the students.