Akwe:kon in Mohawk Means All of Us: A Case Study of the American Indian Program at Cornell University within a Land-Grant Context


American Indian higher education in the United States has evolved within paternalistic, hierarchical decision-making policies and practices based on complex sociopolitical and cultural factors since the 1600s. Indigenous peoples had historically been excluded from most decisions affecting their lives until the 20th century when a deliberate Indian self-determination movement grew to challenge how higher education systems specifically met the needs of Indigenous people. This case study focused on one American Indian Program at a land-grant university that had multiple infrastructural issues impacting the quality and effectiveness of services. As this descriptive evaluation process unfolded, a central question asked was: How can Indian peoples and one higher education system engage in a co-determined, collaborative development of programs to meet the needs of a diverse constituency? A participatory evaluation design process, closely aligned with participatory action research, was nested within an interpretive, qualitative design. The ‘best fit’ to address the needs of this unique context required a mixed-methods approach employing a Search Conference as the primary anchoring method. The Search Conference process provided the space for democratic dialog among multiple Indian and non-Indian stakeholders. Outcomes included a restructuring of the American Indian Program, constituency participation, and sovereignty.

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