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A Millenial Student Perspective: Comparing and Contrasting the Native American Millenial Student

November 17-18, 2006
University of the Sacred Heart and the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
San Juan, Puerto Rico

David M. Gipp , President, United Tribes Technical College

Prepared by Harriett Skye, Vice President, Intertribal Programs, United Tribes Technical College

A Brief History

The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the Native American Millennial Student, both reservation and urban, with that of the mainstream society, and examine their similarities and differences. This paper as well is a reflection of a survey that was taken in 2006 with Mrs. Liza Azure’s “Teacher Education Students,” and Mrs. Carol Anderson’s “Small Business Management Experiential Learning Class” at United Tribes. But first we must look briefly at the history of United Tribes Technical College to put this in a cultural and educational context.

United Tribes Technical College (UTTC), for the past thirty-eight years has been a premier institution of higher learning that celebrates the Native American student and their families. This institution has also been providing postsecondary vocational education, job training and family services to Indian students from throughout the nation.

The work done at UTTC is demonstrated by the following “Mission Statement,” and the declared sacred obligation to others, and that is “to provide individual students and their families with vocational-technical and educational services that perpetuate the success of all people. We are an educational institution that consistently has excellent results, placing Indian people in good jobs and reducing welfare rolls. We also provide career and technical education and culturally relevant support services to Indian people from throughout Indian country.”i

In order to define what constitutes a Native American Millennial Student, we must first look at how Neil Howe and William Strauss have characterized Millennials of the popular culture, and how they have clarified these traits:

Special. From precious-baby movies of the early ‘80s to the effusive rhetoric surrounding the high school Class of 2000, older generations have inculcated in Millennials the sense that they are, collectively, vital to the nation and to their parents’ sense of purpose.

Sheltered. Starting with the early –‘80s child-abuse frenzy, continuing through the explosion of kid safety rles and devices, and now climaxing with a post-Columbine lockdown of public schools, Millennials are the focus of the most sweeping youth safety movement in American history.

Confident. With high levels of trust and optimism—-and a newly felt connection to parents and future—-Millennial teens are beginning to equate good news for themselves with good news for their country. They often boast about their generation’s power and potential.

Team-oriented. From Barney and soccer to school uniforms and a new classroom emphasis on group learning, Millennials are developing strong team instincts and tight peer bonds.

Achieving. With accountability and higher school standards rising to the very top of America’s political agenda, Millennials are on track to become the best-educated and best-behaved adults in the nation’s history.

Pressured. Pushed to study hard, avoid personal risks, and take full advantage of the collective opportunities adults are offering them, Millennials feel a “trophy kid” pressure to excel.

Conventional. Taking pride in their improving behavior and more comfortable with their parents’ values than any other generation in living memory, Millennials support conven- tion—-the idea that social rules can help.ii

To begin with the importance of the UTTC Survey is that the students who participated, whether they were urban or reservation, felt that these ideas came from their perspective and as a result, they were able to express who they are. They also felt that they were part of something substantive that related to them. On the other hand, when we look at the mainstream concept of the millennial student there are many similarities and many more differences, and one of those is relocation.

What has changed for many of our students today is that our native students are not being raised in the same tradition as their parents. What brought about one of the many changes among native people was the 1950’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, (BIA) Termination Policy. This was a relocation program designed to move people off their reservations to seven major urban cities where there was an abundance of jobs and affordable housing.

They were moved from their reservations to places like Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA, Denver, CO, San Jose, CA, and Cleveland OH. Later on more cities were added to entice the relocates to training and jobs, when in fact, there were often few jobs in these larger cities. The BIA called this project their “Urban Indian Relocation Program.”

These relocates were recruited by the BIA and promised jobs, housing, counseling, and guidance, as well as community and social resources. Unfortunately, many of these promises were not kept, not everyone found a job, and those that did found themselves in a lower economic status then they were on their reservations.

According to the BIA, and that depends on who you talk to, “while Indians still lagged behind non-Indians in economic power, in the 1960’s urban Indians found a new political activism. They developed a sense of identity that was less tied to their reservations or tribe and more connected to the vast array of tribes in the cities. Their orientation was pan-Indianism and urban, and this often translated into a strong commitment to the cause of self-determination for Indian people.”iii Depending on who you talk to, this program was either successful or a monumental failure.

In addition to that, those who stayed in those larger cities came home once or twice a year, so their children grew up, to some extent, disconnected from their relatives. For many, this experience was devastating because along with that went their knowledge of their tribal languages, customs, and traditions. “Studies on American Indians living in cities show that many have to cope with conflicting values and discrimination (Mucha, 1984), and many possess a strong sense of responsibility to family, kinship group, and tribe.”

The BIA Relocation Program history tells us that this program was to provide transportation, job placement, and subsistence funds until they received their first pay check. In 1956, PL-959 added vocational training to this program.

The participants were mainly between the ages of 18 and 35. They received two years of benefits for either an on-the-job experience or vocational classes in addition to counseling. Moreover, those who were working in factories on the reservation received apprenticeship provisions and relocated individuals received vocational training.

To say that this program was controversial is a gross understatement. There were those who believed that relocation freed them from the control of the BIA, provided them with more exposure to education and gave them a way out of poverty. Still others believed that the program forced Indian people to leave their reservations without improving their living conditions or the quality of their job training.

The UTTC Experience
Many students, who come to study at UTTC, come from as many as sixty-six (66) different tribes that constitute many diverse tribal nations throughout the United States. At the same time, those students who are non-native come to us from not only the non-native world but from other countries. Last year we had a student from Senegal, which means that we are moving into educational globalization.

They come here because this is not only a diverse campus, but they know that they will receive a quality education that is meant to enhance the quality of their lives and that of their children. They come because it is the one place where they can go to school, while at the same time their babies and young children are eligible for our Early Childhood Programs. Contextually, UTTC differs from most community college’s becauseUTTC educates the entire family.

It is within this concept that UTTC is unique in that as a premier tribal college we educate and celebrate the entire family from the babies to their parents. It is also the only tribal college that is not located on an Indian reservation, but is adjacent to the airport in the city of Bismarck, North Dakota and part of the city. “UTTC’s Millennial Family” may differ in relation to what is and can be described by the popular culture as the “Millennial Student.”

Survey Results
In order to look objectively at the Native American Millennial Student we surveyed our students here at United Tribes from two classes, that of Mrs. Carol Anderson’s “Small Business Management Experiential Learning Class,” and Mrs. Lisa Azure’s “Teacher Education Students.” To begin with, a few of these students felt that they didn’t belong in this interesting category, while others in the Teacher Education Class took the educational point of view, and the business group looked at things from a demographic and participation point of view. Interestingly, and after some discussion among themselves, these same students agreed that they have children who can be categorized as a “Millennial Student.”

Both groups did agree that there was a difference between growing up on the reservation and growing up in an urban area. It was their consensus that their lives were more socially constructed. They also felt that they had been exposed to more issues and experiences than their reservation counterparts. They felt that not all these urban experiences were positive, but that the urban students came to school better prepared for life and living.

An important consideration for these two groups was the safety of their children in urban areas. For them, raising children on the reservation is much safer because there are many more people there to help take care of a growing child. In the city, a parent has to have a paid baby sitter or go do a day care center. On the reservation a relative would probably be available to baby sit. There was also questions of discipline. Children did not have as much discipline if they were raised on the reservation compared to urban living. On the other hand, these students felt that in both urban and reservation settings, life was not fixed and always changing.

Included in this survey were 17 females – 1 male—-16 enrolled tribal members – 1 non-Indian – 1 descendent; 17 parents of one or more children with 1 having no children, that ranged in ages from 27-49. They agreed that they knew young people who would fit the definition of the “Millennial Student,” even perhaps, some of their own children. Interestingly, and different from the Small Business students, none of these students considered themselves members of this sub-culture.

There was agreement that the evolution and accessibility of technology has a direct and crucial bearing on the characteristics of students in this category, more so than any other influence. Access to technology was also discussed. Many families can afford it but either choose not to engage in this technology or don’t have the money to purchase a computer. Yet they felt that it did not matter if there was a computer at home or not, because when they decided to come to school there was a “Computer Science Class” open to everyone, and these students easily adapted themselves to this technology.

Effective education is grounded on the premise that we consider the unique characteristics of each and every child. Of the two groups surveyed, they felt that we can’t presume that children belong to one group or another based on race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

According to Mrs. Anderson, in terms of identifying the “Millennial Student,” it was clear that these two groups agreed on the constructivist theory of education, that is, the theory that learning is an active process in which learners/students construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current and past knowledge. Basing education instruction on this theory would take into consideration the characteristics of all students, regardless of each child’s cultural and sub-cultural, norms, values, etc.

Accordingly, these students agreed that many things were the same. The “Millennial Generation” is expressing itself more than their older counterparts. This is illustrated by their outrageous hairstyles, tattoos, and visible body piercing. Their mode of dress is much the same for the entire generation. Girls wear more revealing clothing, the boys wear baggy pants often revealing their underwear, and they even went to far as to say that in some instances the girls dressed in a “slutty” manner.

These two groups also expressed that this generation was often disrespectful of others and especially of their elders, which coincides with that of the mainstream students; that they have always had color television sets, computers, microwave ovens, bathrooms, and lived in houses. Many felt that everything was made for them and that their “helicopter” mothers picked up after them more than other generations. They also thought that they received more support from their hovering parents, friends, and the government, and that besides all the information at their fingertips, there were more resources available to them.

Finally, these two groups thought that there was a dichotomy here because this generation is more courageous and more knowledgeable than any other generation. These discussions were lively and enjoyable and the students felt that they had been part of something important. Above all, they enjoyed this discussion because these ideas were from their perspective, and they were able to express who they are.

In order to assist those parents who come to school at United Tribes Technical College, and to assure that their children are receiving excellent care, we look forward to those Native babies born after the Millennial Generation—-the Neo-generation—-who many believe will be even more intelligent then their millennial counterparts. Many of the students now are borderline helicopter parents who want their children to succeed, and with that kind of support and the surprises of life, these skills will be most welcome.

Other Components and Recommendations for Further Study
This research is a work in progress, and will eventually factor in other components, including the following:

>> Online Distance Learning
>> The Digital Divide
>> The Digital Native
>> Indigulearn

In a historical context, and for purposes of this paper, we must look at:

>> Boarding Schools, off and on reservation
>> JOM (1936) and Impact Aid
>> Post WWII Programs i.e., CEO/CAP/CETA
>> Tribal Control that began in the 1970’s
>> Postsecondary education
>> Who is an Indian?
>> How do I feel about being Indian?
>> Federal/tribal Political Relationship – Trust Status
>> Global & Cultural Diversity
>> Relationship building
>> Historical trauma
>> Common denominator: Substance Abuse

i Testimony by Dr. David M. Gipp, President, United Tribes Technical College. Statement on the FY 2008 Bureau of Indian Affairs Budget, Submitted to the House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriation Subcommittee Senate Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, March, 2007.

ii Neil Howe and William Strauss. Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. Cartoons by R. J. Matson. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, Inc. New York, NY., 2000, pgs.43-44.

iii Indian Country Diaries: Assimilation, Relocation, Genocide: The Urban Relocation Program, a film documentary on PBS entitled “Indian Country Diaries – History – 1950s Relocation Program,

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