Learning among Traditional Native Americans (TNA)...


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It would be foolish, and insensitive, and shortsighted to characterize individuals through general group definitions. The following discussion is not intended to limit your interpretation of what your students are like. Rather, it is intended to serve as a door into greater understanding and further discussion. To the extent that they are helpful, the following comments are suggested here as a background for later discussion on teaching approaches and lesson plans, following this section.

The following list is taken from http://www.literacynet.org/lp/namericans/understanding.html

The article begins by giving examples of TNA who are different from each other, depending on their relationship to their own and their new culture.

 "There are varying degrees of acculturation of Native Americans. Characteristics of a traditional Native American could be used for the understanding of varying degrees of acculturation. At the opposite end would be an individual who is assimilated and who knows the English language but does not speak his Native language. In between a traditional and assimilated individual would be the varying degrees of acculturation."

[The traditional Native American student...]

  • Speaks Native language

  • Understands tribal customs/traditions

  • Participates in tribal religious/ceremonial/social activities

  • Acts in appropriate ways at religious/ceremonial/social activities

  • Practices traditional spirituality

  • Feels emotionally connected to tribe (s)

  • Socializes with other Native American people

  • Chooses to live in Indian communities (reservations)

  • May grow crops or have a farm

  • Immediate and extended family very important to individual

Other characteristics/definitions are discussed at  http://www.literacynet.org/lp/namericans/attitudes.html. Following is the introductory paragraph from that page to entice you to visit the site.

"Through personal experience and observation, Mr. Wilson Gorman, an adult educator from the Navajo Nation, has developed a model for understanding Navajo attitudes. This model is to be considered a "work in progress" serving both to inform instructors and students and stimulate discussions about Navajo attitudes. He has created five categories of Navajo attitudes and beliefs: Staying, Optimists, Undecided, Pessimists, and Leaving."

Dr. Bob Rhodes comments that most Native American students are not traditional, even those living on the reservations.  They don't have all the characteristics mentioned above.  They fall in between cultures--some tradition, some acculturation.  They do not have much self identity.  They see themselves as "Indians" or as members of a tribe, but they don't quite know what that entails.


  1. Do the items mentioned match your experience working with TNA students?

  2. What additional observations would you make from your experience?


  1. Read the articles cited above. How accurate do you think are the comments?

  2. Comment on how you might feel about being defined by someone else.

  3. Make a list of some characteristics of the traditional group that defines you.

  4. Compare items on your list to those discussed above. What more would you like to know about your student based on what you would like someone to know about you if they were to teach you.

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