Misty Blue, Audrianna Goodwin, and An Garagiola
White Earth Nation, Red Lake Nation, and Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, respectively
White Earth Nation, Red Lake Nation, and Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, respectively
First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) is pleased to launch a new online series of essays that focuses on Native justice. With generous support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), First Nations invited multiple experts to discuss the root causes of Native injustice and highlight possible frameworks to move forward toward Native justice.
This essay, co-written by Misty Blue, Audrianna Goodwin, and An Garagiola, critically examines how the U.S. education system has been used to diminish, devalue, and erase Indigenous knowledge. As Garagiola, Blue, and Goodwin point out, Native injustice can be perpetuated in multiple ways, including through land-grant institutions, such as the University of Minnesota, which, like many universities, is founded on Indigenous land theft and genocide. Since 2020, these three researchers have been working on a large-scale initiative to “tell the story of tribal-university relations from an Indigenous perspective.”
In this essay, Blue, Goodwin, and Garagiola argue that “justice for Indigenous people is honoring Indigenous knowledge systems so that we may make decisions for ourselves that protect our sovereignty.” Below, they share the TRUTH Project, a research model that seeks justice for the 11 tribes displaced by the University of Minnesota.
About the Co-Essayists
Misty Blue, citizen of the White Earth Nation and appointed by MIAC, assembled a team of Native scholars who have examined the past, present, and future of tribal-university relations since the university opened in 1851. These tribal research fellows conducted place-based, tribally based research using archival and Indigenous methodologies around a self-determined topic. Tribal research fellows presented their experience and findings at the TRUTH Project Symposium in May 2022.
Blue is an evaluation project manager with Grassroots Solutions. Growing from community-minded roots, she has come to appreciate the patterns found in data. Her previous roles as a domestic violence prevention advocate and grassroots community organizer developed within her a curiosity about complex issues and strategies for change on individual, community, and systemic levels. She relies on her public health research training to zoom in and on Indigenous methodologies to zoom out. Balancing Western methodologies with decolonized research processes, she is dedicated to curating learning spaces that are systematic and interactive to illuminate solutions.
Her love for Mni Sota Makoce runs deep, and she currently resides in Minneapolis.
Audrianna Goodwin is a citizen of the Red Lake Nation. Audrianna is part of the core research team for the TRUTH Project. She also worked with a team of researchers from the Humphrey School on the Permanent University Fund and conducted interviews with other land-grant institutions. In addition to these roles, she is also a tribally appointed research fellow. She recently graduated with a Master of Public Policy from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, ranked nationally for their degree programs. Audrianna routinely works in community and in collaboration with others on a variety of issues that affect Indigenous people. Her work and interactions with others are guided by the seven grandfather teachings of the Anishinaabeg people.
An Garagiola, descendent of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, is a mother of three, a Ph.D. student in American studies, and project manager in the Office of Native American Affairs at the University of Minnesota, where she recently graduated with a Master of Public Policy degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Her studies and work comingle at the confluence of research ethics and Indigenous rights. An is part of the core research team on the Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing (TRUTH) Project. She was the university coordinator and a lead researcher for TRUTH, scouring the historical archives at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society to uproot the full story of the founding board of regents. Through the examination of treaties, legislation, maps, archived communications, ledgers, and financial records, An’s research has uncovered how the founding regents drove a pattern of wealth transfer from Indigenous peoples to the institution, often for their own personal gain. In the report, the TRUTH Project makes the case for reparations in perpetuity. Off-campus, An is an organizational development consultant, working with practitioners to rematriate Indigenous management, development, research, evaluation, and data sovereignty into internal and external partnerships. She is passionate about designing plans which help systems become more equitable, sustainable, and accessible for people who institutions continue to marginalize.
By Misty Blue, Audrianna Goodwin, and An Garagiola
We are Anishinaabekwewag and the DNA of our ancestors can be found embedded in the ground. When our ancestors were sent from the stars, they embarked on a journey to learn from the world around them and established relationships based on mutual care and understanding. These teachings and systems of justice have been passed down through oral stories, resulting in reciprocal relationships and a balanced ecosystem stewarded by our people from time immemorial until the disruption by colonial forces. The development of highly sophisticated cultural and spiritual lifeways of woodland people has been guiding our communities for generations.
It is from these lessons and progress made by those who come before us that we seek justice for those who will come after us. We are core researchers on the Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing Project (TRUTH). TRUTH is a land-based, Native-organized, Native-led, community-driven research movement that offers multiple recommendations on how the university community can be in better relation with Indigenous peoples.[i] It looks into the origins of the University of Minnesota, an institution that owes its existence to Indigenous land expropriation through the Morrill Act. The Morrill Act is federal legislation that provided land for the endowment of state colleges and universities. These are what we call “land-grab” universities.
The onset of colonization in 1492 brought with it another set of systems much different than ours. Settler paradigms and knowledge systems have glorified extraction, a sense of individuality, and winning in a style of zero-sum. Meanwhile, Indigenous paradigms value reciprocity, hold uncertainty, and strive toward cooperation. Instead of respecting this difference, the United States government employed a twin policy of forced assimilation and land expropriation. The U.S. government, religious organizations, and the private sector systematically used various tactics to assimilate Indigenous peoples to Western ways of being/thinking/knowing via the boarding school system. When this did not work, officials used genocide, war, and murder to expropriate Indigenous lands from which settlers could profit.
Native injustice is rooted in this land theft and genocide. This has led to unilateral decision-making and policy regarding land and land stewardship by the government. Dehumanization justified all manner of violence toward the land and toward Indigenous people. This same violence and harm that happens over time become trauma and disconnection from our bodies, from our families, and from our land. Our cultural teachings, economies and lifeways have been interrupted by colonization, specifically settler systems. These systems helped to establish a perpetual system of wealth transfer from Indigenous communities to settler communities.
Injustice is also perpetuated in more subtle ways, such as how the U.S. education systems privilege Western paradigms and knowledge systems over Indigenous ways of being and ways of knowing. This has allowed the dominant culture to create and uphold dominant social narratives that cast Native/Indigenous/original people as “savage ”[ii] and begin the process of dehumanization and marginalization that is still perpetuated today. Over time, violence and harm become trauma and disconnection from our bodies, from our families and from our land, resulting in the disproportionately poor social determinants of well-being we see today.[iii]
At the same time, Indigenous narratives and connections to this land have been unrecognized and untaught in Western educational settings, allowing dominant narratives to go unchallenged.
The Morrill Act of 1862 stipulates that the proceeds of the sale of stolen Indigenous lands are held in perpetuity – forever – as an endowment for the University of Minnesota. The Permanent University Fund created from the Indigenous genocide committed by the University of Minnesota’s founding board of regents reported $591,119,846 in assets in 2020.[iv]
Our report, “Oshkigin Noojimo’iwe, Naġi Waƞ P̣etu Uƞ Ihduwaṡ’ake He Oyate Kiƞ Zaniwic̣aye Kte,” which we understand translates roughly into “the spirit of fire renews and heals the people” in Ojibwe and Dakota languages, uses research to support a call for perpetual reparations from the University of Minnesota to Dakota, Anishinaabeg, and Ho-Chunk peoples, against whom the founders of the university committed acts of genocide for financial gain. In this essay, we share our model and methods in hopes of sparking similar system renewals across Turtle Island.
The Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing (TRUTH) Project began as the first-ever tribally-led research initiative to tell the history of university-tribal relations using Indigenous narratives. When we began to dig at the roots of the injustices committed by the University of Minnesota, the story became about much more. Beneath the bedrock of Hahawakpa, the Mississippi River in the university archives, we begin to piece together the story the university had buried long ago. We uncovered instances of injustice against the land and Native peoples dating back to when the university first opened as a territorial institution in 1851.
A core value of TRUTH is working toward Native justice. One way this is possible is through the renewal of systems that harm Indigenous people by focusing on problematic dynamics and bringing them to the attention of the collective. These are what we call “burn sites.” The title of the TRUTH report comes from Oshkigin, the spirit that renews the land through the Anishinaabeg practice of controlled burning, a traditional land-management technique where the community would decide where to renew the landscape through cultural burns.
In a similar way, collective voice has the power to reshape settler institutions designed to exclude us and/or divide us. When we experience injustice, it is important to channel any rage that surfaces at the systems and institutions that allowed for the harm to happen. As a collective, we need to break up concentrations of power and resources that create power imbalances. A key part of this goal is to honor Indigenous knowledge systems that reduce harm.
Honoring Indigenous knowledge systems asks us to reconsider how knowledge is produced and whose knowledge is valued. In traditionally academic spaces, knowledge is produced through studies that use a controlled environment and are absent from other variables when possible. With an Indigenous lens, knowledge is gained through the longevity of exposure and attunement to complex ecosystems to find patterns over generations, paying special attention to human-nature interactions.[v]
We also challenge university systems to hold complexity, to consider both Indigenous and Western knowledge systems and approaches, while not valuing one over the other. Rather, it may serve as a bridge where its learners can recognize differences and not discredit the “other” knowledge system. It would also ask us to focus on long-term (re)learning.
Indigenous people have a painful history regarding Western research, as there have been efforts to further colonize or assimilate Indigenous people through research questions and policies created from research findings. There is a tendency to take knowledge, data, and resources without regard for the needs of the community and without regard for reciprocity. It is imperative that researchers use culturally appropriate strategies to dismantle these power dynamics and interrupt these historic patterns.[vi] Redress for harm is imperative and is done through cultivating trust and shared power.
Culturally appropriate strategies that would attend to these goals when working with Indigenous people include using methods that are non-linear, spacious, and cyclical, and allow patterns to emerge, including recognizing that story and conversation are important data and information embedded within a specific context, history, and place; and include presenting findings through metaphoric framing when possible.[vii]
The release of the TRUTH report was a pinnacle of collective Indigenous-led research, and we believe this model can be replicated and shaped to be geographically specific. Below we present a framework for institutional justice work.
Our model for systems change combines policy, tribally-led critical Indigenous research, community organizing, radical healing, and public engagement. Combined, they can pressure systems to Indigenize, all while centering Indigenous values, epistemologies, and relationality.
Our model for analysis and dissemination was also grounded in relationality. Similar to what researchers have referred to as the Herringbone method.[viii] In TRUTH’s example, research was the activity in which the community came together, discussing thoughts and projects weekly.
Our model for research centered on outreach and engagement with tribal nations to consider the past, present, and future of tribal-university relations using a community-based participatory model. First, interviews were conducted with each tribal government to assess understanding of this issue and to gather information regarding interactions between tribes and the university.
Next, one representative was appointed by their tribal government to join the research team, where they were trained in archival research methods and provided with other background information to assist them in their research.
Finally, each tribal research fellow examined university-tribal relations using archival and Indigenous methodologies and presented their experience and findings from each place-based, tribally based study of university-tribal relations at the TRUTH Project Symposium in May 2022.
The final report was released in April 2023. Eve Tuck, associate professor of critical race and indigenous studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, notes that Indigenous research has often been inaccessible through academia because “one of the barriers that has kept people from learning how to do collaborative Indigenous research is the lack of support for Indigenous scholars who might otherwise be able to mentor newcomers to the field.”[ix]
Research has been done by Indigenous communities since time immemorial. Colonization disrupted many of those practices. To begin to heal from this disruption, the TRUTH Project used collaborative Indigenous research methods and methodologies to rematriate research to communities.
The geospatial scale of land-grab research is enormous. TRUTH encompasses 11 tribal nations, two urban Indigenous communities, five university campuses, and institutional, state, and national archival depositories. TRUTH also shifts temporally, seeking knowledge about the past, present, and future. Despite its range, this research is not without its limitations ─ scale being one of them. TRUTH looked at only relationships between UMN and Indigenous peoples residing in Mni Sota Makoce. Tribes outside of Mni Sota were beyond the scope and scale of this research. This omits the narratives of tribal communities exiled by the founders of the university.
TRUTH uses a braided methods approach that integrates university-tribal relations quantitatively and qualitatively through a critical Indigenous lens. We chose to blend research styles because academia does not value Indigenous voices and ways of thinking/researching as highly as it does quantitative approaches.
There is inherent violence in the epistemological hierarchy of Western knowledge, especially when it comes to who gets to access, learn, know, write about, and hold knowledge.[x] This erasure is how Native voice is omitted in economic decisions and policymaking. Throughout the TRUTH Project, while still striving to center Indigenous epistemologies, we have had to code-switch or balance multiple different modes of knowing to protect our research. We have had to be very cognizant of how the academic institution simultaneously covets Indigenous knowledges while undervaluing Indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing.
TRUTH is centered on Indigenous research methods, including oral histories, storytelling, ripple mapping, community-led participation and design, inductive archival research of 5,000+ documents, and in-depth interviews with eight other land-grant universities.
Each of the 11 federally recognized tribes who share geography with Minnesota appointed a research fellow. These tribal research fellows (TRFs) were organized by Misty Blue, the Minnesota Indian Affairs Coordinator (MIAC) for this project. Each fellow pursued a research topic important to their tribal nation.
The TRUTH Project is a culmination of six months of inductive archival research at the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) and the University of Minnesota’s Elmer L. Andersen Library. Research began at MNHS looking for the scrip receipt from the first parcel sold by the University of Minnesota with the idea that it is important to honor that land. Many land office boxes were cataloged by researchers. Land claim disputes led back to the university, where inductive research continued in the university archives.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, more than 5,000 pages relating to the founding of the university, the Morrill Act, board of regents minutes, land titles, surveys, bonds, financial records, journals, and reports were cataloged, photographed, and studied. Content analysis of these documents was done through an Anishinaabeg worldview that considers members of the natural world to be relatives and centers on the well-being of future generations.
In addition to the qualitative methods, TRUTH partnered with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs to conduct several analyses of the institutional gain from the sale of Indigenous lands. Using historical data sets, an R file was coded by economic fellows using publicly available investment data of the Permanent University Fund.
Honoring Indigenous Research
Indigenous research is dually oriented, one toward learning and one that has practical applications and recommendations to improve the daily life of community members.[xi]
Through this project, we had a number of successes in trust-building by utilizing methods that are non-linear, like semi-structured interviews instead of highly structured instruments; by allowing a process that honors cultural practices like data collection that has space and time for niceties and visiting beforehand and for the participant to tell stories at their own pace, protocol greetings and gifting where appropriate and transparency with data use, participant protections such as anonymity and confidentiality; and by ensuring that any report or findings are shared back to ensure a useful product. More than anything, trust-building takes time.
In terms of logistics, we knew from the start that we would do the following: 1) adequately compensate people as part of the project in a way that works for them, 2) write data sovereignty clauses into the pertinent contracts of the project, and 3) trust tribal nations to structure the participation of their tribal research fellow as appropriate.
Knowing that the university has operated using Western paradigms and they have failed our communities, our team wanted to do things differently while being intentional. We decided to take cues from land in honoring the sovereignty, self-determination, and embodied experience of each member of our all-Native research team. This bloomed in a myriad of ways.
Tribes chose who would be involved in the project and we allowed the multidisciplinary team to come together. This decision, in fact, added so much richness to our report because each brought different viewpoints, lived histories, and areas of interest. This also opened university spaces for tribes to assert sovereignty in all aspects of research, especially data. Data sovereignty is more important than ever in this technological age. Early in the process, we established a protocol that gave tribes the lead in procedural reviews where they could guide all plans for research, generative production, and dissemination.
Once members joined our team, we offered a common launching point. We conducted a week-long training that created a foundation of knowledge about the project and possible methodologies to use during this process. This is about creating a shared experience. Intention went into the creation of space to foster shared learning and collaboration during the project time frame. In recognizing that each team member brought a wealth of expertise and knowledge to the project, peer-to-peer learning was encouraged. In addition, faculty mentors in the American Indian studies department worked one-on-one with TRUTH research fellows to create and carry out their research plans.
We valued an emergent approach by staying nimble and in tune with the needs of our team members, and by aligning ourselves with steadfast partners who could support us in a holistic way. This was especially helpful in supporting emotional and spiritual needs that arose given the challenging nature of the history that we were examining. Our team was able to secure Native talk therapists and a community elder who provided emotional and spiritual support for our team during our project.
Finally, we prioritized shared decision-making. During the editing process, it was critical to provide ample space for multiple rounds of edits and reviews. Our report became a collection of stories because we did it together. To foster these diverse expressions, it has been imperative to encourage each member to show up and create in a way that is authentic to them.
The term and narrative around “land-grant university” is revisionist history. In its use, prior claims to place and to land are erased. It has also offered special privileges and space for the university to act in ways that are unchecked and boundary-less. As a result, the institution holds a concentration of power and frequently transgresses and enacts harm on tribes. Considerations need to be made to break up concentrations of power, repair the harm, offer reparations, and impose limits and boundaries on these institutions.
Justice for Indigenous people is the ability for us to have self-determination in living mino-bimaadiziwin, a good life. Justice for Indigenous people is honoring Indigenous knowledge systems so that we may make decisions for ourselves that protect our sovereignty. Guided by the Seventh-Generation philosophy ─ an Indigenous worldview that formulates community-based solutions by considering the well-being of seven generations forward ─ the strength of our people is steeped in the belief that the solutions to a healthier community already exist within the community.
Native empowerment, healing, nation rebuilding, and self-determination serve as guideposts. Our communities reap positive benefits when we build collective power through intentional collective action. Historical and intergenerational trauma may be woven into our DNA, but so are relationality, resilience, and love.
Our nations are strong. Imagine the strength we have when we come together with love for the next seven generations.
[ii] United States of America. Declaration of Independence. (1776); First Nations Development Institute. Reclaiming Native Truth Research Findings: Compilation of all research, Reclaiming Native Truth. United States of America. Retrieved from https://policycommons.net/artifacts/3496009/fullfindingsreport-screen/4296599/. CID: 20.500.12592/phf0gg.
[iii] Angie Fertig, “Minnesota Poverty Report 2009–2019,” MinnCap (2022), accessed June 5, 2023, https://minncap.org/Minnesota-Poverty-Report; Randall Akee, “Land Titles and Dispossession: Allotment on American Indian Reservations,” Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy 3, no. 2 (2020): 123–43.
[iv] University of Minnesota. “Permanent University Fund, Biennial Report.” (2020). Retrieved from https://government-relations.umn.edu/permanent-university-fund.
[v] Dennis Folley. “Indigenous Epistemology and Indigenous Standpoint Theory.” Social Alternatives 22, no. 1 (2003): 44–52. https://doi.org/10.22459/SA.22.01.2003.04.
[vi] Cora Weber Pillwax. “Indigenous Research Methodology: Exploratory Discussion of an Elusive Subject.” Canadian Journal of Native Education 23, no. 1 (1999): 16–28; Manulani AluliMeyer. “Ekolu mea nui: Three ways to experience the world.” The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 31, no. 2 (2011): 11; Shawn Wilson. “What is an Indigenous research methodology?.” Canadian journal of native education 25, no. 2 (2001).
[vii] Margaret Kovach, Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts, Second Edition, 2nd ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).
[viii] Shawana Andrews. “Qualitative analysis at the interface of Indigenous and Western knowledge systems: The Herringbone stitch model.” Qualitative Research 21, no. 6 (2021): 939-956.
[ix] Eve Tuck. “ Collaborative Indigenous Research is a way to repair the legacy of harmful research practices.” Open Rivers Journal issue 23. (2023). https://openrivers.lib.umn.edu/article/collaborative-Indigenous-research.
[x] Graham Hingangaroa Smith. “Indigenous struggle for the transformation of education and schooling.” Transforming Institutions: Reclaiming Education and Schooling for Indigenous Peoples October (2003): 1-14.; Elizabeth Sumida Huaman, and Nathan D. Martin, eds. Indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies: Local solutions and global opportunities. Canadian Scholars, 2020.; inda Tuhiwai Smith, Te Kahautu Maxwell, Haupai Puke, and Pou Temara. “Indigenous knowledge, methodology and mayhem: What is the role of methodology in producing Indigenous insights? A discussion from mātauranga Māori.” (2016): 131-156.
[xi] Graham Hingangaroa Smith. “Beyond political literacy: From conscientization to transformative praxis.” Counterpoints 275 (2005): 29-42.