DH Tools

Hi again!

I’ve been playing with some DH tools to help me visualize changes in federal grant allocations for Indian education over time. Today, I was looking for a tool that would help me see trends geographically, temporally, and categorically (types of grant recipients). After playing around with StoryMap JS, I decided to use color coding to change years, insert text boxes to designate school categories (tribal school, missionary school, etc.), and attach the gps pin as closely as possible to the site mentioned in the congressional records.

Some pitfalls —

  1. The sites mentioned in the letters and records of Congress correspond to historical sites that don’t match up with Google Maps and its names for places today. Also, some sites were described through a reference to the tribal nation being served but not to a specific location. Tribal territories were in flux during the period in question (1819 to 1833), so finding an appropriate pin for “Creek nation,” for example, is difficult.
  2. Some schools filled multiple categories. For example, the Mohegan school at Montville, CT was both a missionary school and, at least partially, a tribally owned property.

Take a look and see what you think!

(if the embedded tool doesn’t work, you can check it out at https://uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/ef302b45fe690d798810f28b8f474bbd/civilization-act-of-1819-funds-distribution/index.html)

Civilization Act of 1819 Funds Distribution

A visual analysis of the disbursements of the Civilization Act of 1819 between 1819 and 1833

Posted in Digital Humanities, Dissertating, DNAIS, Indian Education, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Consultation and Collaboration: NIEA Hill Day 2017

This week, I got to attend the NIEA’s 2017 Hill Day. I came to listen and to learn what people are thinking about with regard to recent Indian education legislation. It was so exciting to hear leaders in Indian education sharing their perspectives on federal funding, innovation, and the rollout of the ESSA. Many shared similar feelings about the rollout of the new law, including ongoing concerns about the need for racially disaggregated data, for culturally relevant curriculum (and identifying teachers implement it), and for secure funding not subject to the whims of changing administrations. Many also discussed the potential for positive, collaborative relationships with states, federal agencies, and local districts based on the government-to-government relationship.

The most thrilling and inspiring information from today came from states and tribes who are already engaged in the meaningful, ongoing consultation that can lead to positive results for kids. Notable examples included the work of the 39 Oklahoma tribes in conversation with state school superintendent Joy Hofmeister to offer 10 (!!!) Native languages as foreign languages to satisfy graduation requirements and to bring the Native high school graduation rate to 82%. As Superintendent Hofmeister noted, “It begins with consultation and collaboration with ESSA.” Also notable was the example of the Baboquivari school district in Arizona which has utilized the structures and resources at its disposal to reinvigorate a local public school district, drawing on Impact Aid funds to invest in teachers and using the state’s alternative certification program to bring in high quality language and culture instructors. There are thrilling examples of how charter schools can work for Native communities when they’re developed by the community based on community needs and values (not brought in from elsewhere), and I can’t wait to learn more about the work that Kara Bobroff is doing with the Native American Community Academy and NACA Inspired Schools Network. Perhaps the most exciting example of the day for me came from Sam Morseau with the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi. In preparing for ESSA, tribes in Michigan passed a strategic resolution which gives tribes the power to designate their liaison to the state for the purposes of working on ESSA. This resolution, passed by both individual tribes and by the United Tribes of Michigan, became part of the Michigan state plan for ESSA rollout which is now up for public comment.

The kind of information-sharing and collaboration that happens at NIEA will ensure that representatives from Indian Country have a seat at the table and that Native youth are represented throughout the planning and implementation of ESSA. 

So much of the conversation at NIEA this week was about utilizing the resources and structures already at your disposal to ensure positive outcomes for Native youth. Folks working in Indian Ed are collaborating and sharing information, identifying strategies that have worked elsewhere and then tailoring them to local contexts. Even beyond the law itself, the ESSA’s increased consulation requirements can be a stepping stone for future meaningful collaboration. Laws can be fickle, and the implementation of them can shift in seemingly mercurial ways as federal administrations come and go. As someone said today, this moment may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity. We can take advantage of the consultation rules built into the ESSA to set ourselves up for generations of improved school infrastructures, safer learning environments, and more culturally relevant curricular resources. I’m leaving today hopeful, looking forward to learning more from the people I met and excited for the future of Indian country with such brilliant, dedicated, and creative administrators, teachers, and policy advocates working on behalf of Native students.

Posted in Collaboration, Decolonizing Education, Indian Education | Leave a comment

My goals for you (thoughts on a new semester)

This semester, I’m team-teaching a first-year seminar called Colonialism, Power, and Resistance. These were my first-day-of-class thoughts:

As we start a new semester (and for you, a new school and new phase of your lives), I hope our time together is mutually beneficial and instructive.

I hope that we leave this course feeling that we have a greater understanding of how colonialism structures the lives of colonizers and colonized alike as well as how the dynamics of colonialism are constantly re-negotiated even as they feel permanent and static.

I hope we leave this course stronger, clearer writers, thinkers, and speakers with more compassion for others and for ourselves.

I hope we finish this course equipped with a sharper vision of where we fit in the world and a more developed sense of how to begin to effect the social changes we want to see.

I hope we leave this course with more courage to speak out against the ways that colonialism continues to negatively impact the lives of Indigenous people.

I hope we leave more attuned to and ready to support acts of ongoing resistance in the face of oppression.

I hope we are challenged and exhilarated by our class conversations and readings, all the while feeling safe and encouraged to wrestle with complex, disquieting concepts.

Despite the often discouraging history we’ll learn about in our course, I hope we all leave this semester feeling empowered and excited to engage the world around us with positivity and hope.

Lastly, I hope we leave feeling inspired, confident, and equipped with the tools we need to be successful in our lives, whatever that means to each of us.

Happy first day of classes, everyone! 

Posted in Decolonizing Education, Teaching | Leave a comment


This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the National Endowment of the Humanities-sponsored workshop on Digital Native American and Indigenous Studies (thanks, NEH!). We were a diverse group of about thirty attendees representing tribal governments, tribal museums, universities, and university archives. Over the course of the week, we looked at many sample projects (including Mukurtu!) and asked questions about intellectual property rights, the ethics of digitizing content that may be sensitive to indigenous communities, and the logistics of creating healthy partnerships based on collaboration, conversation, and community.

In this process, we also attempted to define Native Studies and the Digital Humanities to see where they may support one another. I see NAIS is an interpersonal, textual, and digital space for me to ask questions about identity, belonging, history, policies, economics, arts, religion, education, culture, geography, and relationships. As my colleague, Jenny Davis, notes, NAIS can include any work that centers Indigenous epistemologies. For me, Digital Humanities are the online projects people create to manifest their ongoing question-asking and the digital tools they develop to help them identify answers or further questions. So, I don’t think this is an issue of NAIS supporting DH or DH supporting NAIS; rather, like most things, I see them engaging in a relationship that in turn creates new things.

My favorite DNAIS projects of the week

Tomaquag Museum: the site of the only museum entirely dedicated to telling the story of Rhode Island’s Indigenous Peoples

Dawnland Voices 2.0: an online magazine featuring indigenous writers from New England

Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Collection at Amherst: an incredible collection of over 2000 Native-authored books (Native authors — if you’ve written something and they don’t have it, they’ll buy it!)

Gibagadinamaagoom: a site dedicated to preserving the Anishinaabemowin language for future generations of speakers

Mukurtu CMS: an online platform that allows Native communities to set strict access standards based on locally defined cultural protocols

Sites that build on Mukurtu:

Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal

MIRA Canning Stock Route Project Archive

Sustainable Heritage Network

Project I’m Ready

Naken-Natmen Project



Musqueam Fetzer Institute 

My thoughts about the future of Digital NAIS 

If you just wanted to see what cool new projects I was going to share, stop reading here. If you want to hear some of my thoughts about the future of DNAIS, please keep reading below.

I believe the most important factor in the future of Digital NAIS will be the degree to which DH chooses to recognize the inherent assets in Native communities and to build relationships as equals. People are going to need a better understanding of who does work in DNAIS and a better understanding of what each party seeks to get out of any collaborative DNAIS relationship.

I want to take a moment here to address some concerning misconceptions that I’ve noticed recently. Too often, I’ve heard conversations about DH and Native communities make one (or more) of the following mistakes:

Pitfall #1: Assuming Native communities are devoid of technology and need the help of an “expert.”

Some of the comments I’ve heard from DH programmers and theorizers have held up digital tools as “salvation” to preserve indigenous stories and traditions. This dangerous salvage-anthropology way of thinking propagates the myths that:

  1. Technology is new to Native people;
  2. Cultures are static and need to be preserved in a set form;
  3. Native peoples are dying out; and
  4. Native people are incapable of engaging in their own forms of tradition without external “help.”

Do I really need to explain why none of these are true?

Pitfall #2: Believing that all people address the fundamental DH principles of openness and access in the same way.

One of the defining principles of DH since its foundation has been the belief in open access to digital content for everyone. On the surface, this seems like a great goal, one that may even be in line with many social justice movements. Within DNAIS, however, this idea ignores that many of the items which museums, archives, and collections now hold (and want to digitize for public use) were acquired through the very kind of salvage anthropology that I referred to in Pitfall #1. Some of these objects, photographs, and personal papers were never meant for public distribution. Of these, some are personal family documents and others are intended for ceremonial purposes only. Making such items public access should be understood as a choice, not as a default.

When I hear non-Natives argue that such items should be publicly accessible just for the sake of the principle of public access, it makes me wonder about whether they are insensitive to the beliefs of Native communities or whether they just privilege their own curiosity over the priorities of other people.

Side note — due to intellectual property laws, many of these taken items are now in the public domain, a status from which they cannot be removed. Check out Murkurtu’s TK labels for one possible solution to this problem.

Pitfall #3: Thinking that Native communities are all rural reservation communities with no access to digital resources like computers, social media, or the internet.

Sure, this may be true in some places. But, by and large, Indigenous communities are pretty digitally savvy. Just ask the programmers at Ogoki Learning Systems, the makers of the video game Never Alone, writer and video game designer Elizabeth LaPensee, photo and video producer Ryan Comfort (I love his project The Ways), or any number of Native bloggers (my favorites are Adrienne Keene, Debbie Reese, Leslie Locklear, and Jessica Metcalfe). These folks (and many others) are doing amazing work. DH folks — look for the assets first. Let’s not assume that tribal communities are deficit in technological skills or machinery.

Pitfall #4: Operating based on the idea that the “community” and the “DH-ers” are two ends of a binary.

As evidenced above, many of the folks doing digital work are Native. I’ve often heard that “scholars” and “Native people” should work together, as though someone cannot be both scholar and Native. There are too many Native scholars working across a variety of fields to list here, so suffice it to say if you don’t know about them, you’re not looking.

Last thoughts 

If you’ve gotten this far and you’re not sure what to do next, I’d recommend you turn to LaDonna Harris’ article on the 4 R’s: relationship, responsibility, reciprocity, redistribution. I’m not an expert, and I’m certainly still learning about what mutually beneficial collaboration looks like. I have learned this much, though: Engaging in projects that deal with Native communities automatically puts you in a position of responsibility. You’re likely going to benefit in some way (economically, professionally, intellectually) from your work; it only seems right that you would attempt to redistribute some of what you reap.

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The Importance of Seeing Each Other

I love the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association annual conference. I love that it seems to be guided by LaDonna Harris’ “four R’s” (relationship, responsibility, reciprocity, redistribution) and that at NAISA, I don’t have to explain my research principles or who I am. For example, in May of this year, we had approximately 700 people come to Honolulu for a week of learning and engaging in community service. That’s right. People came to a conference in Hawaii and intentionally gave up their time on the beach to give back to the communities whose land we were on. I also love NAISA for its incredible diversity of scholarship, of tribal nations, of geography, of career stages. At NAISA, I have found mentors and colleagues, and each year is like a reunion of people I consider my extended family.


Louellyn White, Sarah Shear, Clyde Ellis, and me right after our NAISA 2016 panel on boarding school memories, school curriculum, and museum preservation

Our day of service at Paepae o He'eia, photo by Marie Alohalani Brown

Our day of service in Hawai’i at Paepae o He’eia, photo by Marie Alohalani Brown










This week, I’m at a new research conference for me. Since I’m new, I do have to explain myself, my tribal affiliation, the historical and legal context for my research. I also feel a bit like an outsider here — I assumed that a conference focused on race and education would include a significant focus on Native peoples, but I’m one of only a handful of people engaged in scholarship with indigenous communities. Initially, it felt pretty isolating.

Then Dr. Daniel Solórzano gave a keynote address to the graduate students in which he discussed the importance of micro-affirmations as a way to make people feel acknowledged and valued. Micro-affirmations can be any small gesture, verbal or non-verbal, which send the message of “I see you. You have value in this space.” It is our responsibility to our relations to lift them up and support them in spaces where Native people are underrepresented. Within the context of academic conferences, this is how we build up and support a network of Native change-agents in the Academy.

Some of the organizers of the conference recognize the importance of trying to acknowledge and include Native peoples. Today’s sessions opened with a welcome and blessing from Kiowa and Arapaho elder John Emhoolah. A conference organizer helped introduce me to a Tohono O’odham elder (who worked on the Turtle Mountain ICC case!) and a Native grad student who is developing culturally-based writing projects for Native high schoolers. Meeting these Native people at a conference where we are far in the minority made me feel acknowledged, included, valued. I am grateful for them, and for the new relationships we’re building. Maybe I don’t feel like such an outsider after all.


Posted in Dissertating, Research Values | 1 Comment

ESSA Listening Sessions, round 1

Today, I had the privilege of spending several hours learning from tribal leaders at the Department of Education’s tribal consultation in Orlando. The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Office of Indian Education, and the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education called the listening session to share information about the Every Student Succeeds Act and to hear community members’ thoughts on next steps for providing guidance for those impacted by the law. This was a heavy meeting at times, particularly as we discussed the urgency of revitalizing our Native languages and the waves of youth suicides sweeping Indian Country. It was a good meeting, and I wanted to share some major themes from the day with you:

Funding Needs

  1. Only 4% of education funding for public schools comes from the federal government; the rest comes from state and local funds. Many states are currently experiencing dire budgetary shortfalls, often leaving educational resources lacking. Several tribal leaders asserted that tribes should be able to enter into compacts with states to run their own education systems, much in the way that some tribes do for gaming or healthcare. They cited tribes running Head Start programs and tribal charter schools as evidence that this is a viable alternative to the present system.
  2. It almost goes without saying that tribes’ education funding is insufficient to cover all educational needs. Participants explained that when funding is available, it often comes in grants with relatively short implementation periods. If funding were more long-term, tribes might be able to craft stronger long-term strategic plans for their education systems. One tribal member explained that half of his tribe’s annual budget comes from grants, and that the management of those ~150 grants takes up substantial labor. The tribal member suggested consolidating smaller funds into one large grant, maximizing fund availability and freeing up tribal employees to work on other important initiatives.

Curriculum Priorities

  1. Attendees stressed that language and culture should be more present in public schools serving Native youth. The ESSA requires that states consult with tribes regarding their use of Title I, Title II, and Title III funds. It also requires that local educational authorities (like school districts) consult with local tribes if 50% of students in their their district are Native or if they qualify for over $40,000 in Title VII (soon-to-be Title VI) funds. Importantly, one participant noted that this may not actually result in greater consultations if students who list “two or more races” on their registration do not get identified as Native by the district.
  2. As ESSA focuses on states having college- and career-ready standards, participants wanted to make sure there is adequate support for youth whose aspirations or life circumstances require trade schools, GEDs, and military service instead of a four-year institution. They emphasized the importance of career in “college- and career-ready.”

Student Needs

  1. Many participants told personal stories about teachers or administrators who didn’t expect them to go to college and, in some cases, told students they would end up in prison. One participant from Alaska shared that the rates of suspensions and expulsions almost exactly match the rates of adult male incarceration — another example of the school-to-prison pipeline in full effect.
  2. Some attendees felt that Native students are over- or under-identified for Special Education: whereas some participants were concerned about school districts identifying Native students as SpEd in order to get additional per pupil funding, others were concerned that teachers and administrators may misinterpret cultural differences as learning disabilities.
  3. Historical trauma affects our students’ abilities to learn and grow. Districts should be aware of the impact of historical trauma on students and set up supports to help them succeed.
  4. Lastly (and most importantly), suicides are rampant in Indian Country. Several participants expressed feeling that schools that aren’t culturally responsive may exacerbate the problem. They asserted that a return to tribal languages and ceremonies can help counteract the issues contributing to youth suicides. Throughout the day, many commented on the need for more culturally responsive environments, teachers, counselors, standards, curriculum, and assessments for Native youth. Districts should invite tribes to actively partner in developing culturally responsive classrooms since they know their communities, their cultures, their histories, and their kids best.

In the next few weeks, the Department of Education will hold additional listening sessions in Sisseton, Tulsa, and Spokane. They also have set up essa.questions@ed.gov as an email address to answer any ESSA-related questions or concerns. Other documents relevant to ESSA can be found on the Department of Education’s page or on the NIEA’s page. 

Feel free to message me @meredithlmccoy on Twitter if you have any thoughts or questions about what I’ve written here. Let me know if this resonated with you!



Posted in ESSA, Historical Trauma, Indian Education | Leave a comment

Native Leaders Symposium 2016: Historical Trauma and Healing

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Chapel Hill! We had almost 200 people come through the Carolina Inn for the 2016 First Nations Graduate Circle Native Leaders Symposium to learn about what our community and campus leaders are doing to support healing from historical trauma. In case you weren’t able to attend, here’s a Storify version to catch you up!

Posted in Capacity Building, Collaboration, First Nations Graduate Circle, Healing, Historical Trauma | Leave a comment

Indigenous People’s Day

Last October, I got to read the 2015 proclamation changing “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People’s Day” for the town of Chapel Hill. I grew up here, and getting the chance to read this in my hometown was a pretty incredible experience (please forgive my terrible Anishinaabemowin pronunciation — I’m still learning!).

Chapel Hill was following Carrboro’s lead, and Hillsboro soon followed. That meant all three cities in Orange County had made the switch. It was interesting, then, (but not very surprising) when the county passed its own authorization to change the name with very little fanfare. In fact, the whole announcement was overshadowed by a very well-attended discussion about the discharge of firearms and changing the Orange County code. Despite the low publicity profile, this is a huge deal. Yes, Orange County is (possibly next to Buncombe County, Asheville’s home) one of the most progressive counties in the state. It might be less note-worthy here than elsewhere. Still, I’m proud that one month ago today, my county joined the movement for #IndigenousPeoplesDay.

Wherever you are, please urge your own city and county governments to join the movement, too.

You can learn more by checking out other cities’, counties’, and universities’ stories:

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Getting Started

Three weeks ago, I passed my comprehensive exams. Hooray! This huge moment felt (as my advisor had hoped it would) anticlimactic. Up one hill to climb to the next, right? Thankfully, grad students farther in the process than I had warned me to take a minute to celebrate and then to regroup before taking on the next hurdle… the dissertation prospectus.

At first, I thought the prospectus would be no big deal. For my department, it’s only 12-15 pages  and most of the content I had already thought through. My first draft, though, was nearly 19 double-spaced pages! I felt swamped by the pressure to lay out my research plan for the next 2-3 years. This is the set-up for the next major phase of my life, and it’s only supposed to be 12-15 pages??? Brevity really is the soul of wit, I guess (at least in American Studies).

Building up to the prospectus, I didn’t realize how much re-examining I would feel the need to do before submitting it to my committee. I know that the prospectus is ultimately just a draft, a stepping stone before beginning a research process that will inevitably shift as I go along. What I want, though, is a solid compass as the foundation for my work moving forward. I’ve figured out some of my guiding ideas (influenced in large part by Amy, Randi, Christina, and Teryn at UNC’s American Indian Center and my Native Leadership Institute cohort), but many are still in the works — I’d love your thoughts about what else I should be thinking about in this prep phase.

Here are the basics:

  1. RESPECT: Produce something accessible.

    As you already know, I was a public school teacher. I want my research to be accessible and engaging to other public school teachers, administrators, staff, interested community members, and researchers. To me, researching something that impacts a community and then not making it accessible to them feels hugely disrespectful.

    Respect also means listening and responding to tribal community members’ needs and wants at every step of the process. I see myself as neither more in charge nor more capable than the people with whom I work. Quite the opposite — they are far more knowledgeable and skilled in many areas than I will ever be. I see myself as an accompaniment, a backstage technician who follows the wishes of the actual director and actors on stage. If this work really is about supporting tribal sovereignty (which it is, in my mind), then researching respectfully means they get to guide the work.

  2. RESPONSIBILITY: Produce something that is useful.

    A faculty member recently told me, “Think about how your dissertation will serve you in the future.” I get that. I know on some level that it’s important. But I’m way more interested in how my research can benefit others. Since I’m looking at federal education policy, that means figuring out what tribal governments and the U.S. Department of Ed might want me to provide for them (acknowledging that, in some instances, those interests might conflict with each other and/or with the goals of my committee).

    It also means fulfilling my responsibilities to those who supported me in getting to this phase of my work. Thanks to Adrienne Keene for summing up my thoughts on fulfilling our responsibilities to our communities.

  3. RECIPROCITY: The process matters as much as the product.

    If my work is really going to be decolonizing, I’ve got to pay attention to the ways in which the labor of creating my dissertation can disrupt and re-write existing power dynamics. Within my initial locus of control, that means working against the historically exploitative nature of research in Native communities. Still figuring out exactly what this looks like on the ground, but first and foremost it means committing to listen and act in ways responsive to the desires of the communities with whom I work.

    Also, finding ways to pay those collaborators who agree to work with me. I know some people think this somehow invalidates the reliability of the information you get, but I disagree. People are providing you with their time and energy. You should compensate them for it.

  4. A COMMITMENT TO NATION-BUILDING. There are so many amazing things to celebrate in Indian Country right now. I am continually inspired by the work of people like Adrienne KeeneJessica MetcalfeAmanda BlackhorseDahkota Kicking Bear BrownTara HouskaKyle Mays, and the folks at CNAYWHIAIANE, and whoever keeps the People’s Dictionary running so I can keep working on my anishinaabemowin skills. Native nations are rising again, reclaiming their histories, languages, educations, environments, land bases, economies, legal structures, representations, and contemporary identities. There is no neutral work in American Indian Studies — either your work helps or it hurts. I’m committed to make sure my research does the former and supports the needs of tribes as they build capacity and invest in their futures.

That’s it for now, and I’d love to hear your thoughts! Baamaapi,


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