Fort Lewis College classrooms are evolving to encompass even more Indigenous perspectives, thanks to a three-year, $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation. In 2018, FLC was awarded the grant to address equity and inclusivity in curriculum and on campus, as well as to enhance undergraduate research in the humanities.
The grant enhances the strengths that come with a diverse community while encouraging professors to better serve students and strengthen them as leaders. The Mellon grant is intended to bolster diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus in part through a Visiting Scholars program that prioritizes inclusive pedagogy. Visiting Assistant Professors Davina Two Bears and Brian Twenter have both joined the Native American & Indigenous Studies Department as this year's Mellon Scholars.
Before deciding to go back to graduate school, Two Bears, who is Diné, worked for the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department for 14 years as a tribal archaeologist and program manager. In 2019, she received her doctoral degree from Indiana University in Anthropology with an emphasis in Archaeology. Two Bears specializes in archival research as well as contemporary Native American music—when she’s not teaching she DJs the show “Indigenous Voice” for dublab. In curriculum and in classrooms, she says it’s important to have an Indigenous perspective.
"Most people have their Native American history based on stereotypes and I am doing everything I can to eradicate those stereotypes. It’s important for students to have an educational opportunity to learn from a Native American and this is the perfect place for that to occur."
DAVINA TWO BEARS
“In my subjects, I will always showcase Native Americans, especially drawing from sources that are a Native American perspective,” she says. “Most people have their Native American history based on stereotypes and I am doing everything I can to eradicate those stereotypes. It’s important for students to have an educational opportunity to learn from a Native American and this is the perfect place for that to occur.”
Twenter echoed Two Bears’ sentiment. Though not Indigenous himself, he has spent his career learning how to teach Indigenous culture in the classroom. Twenter received his doctoral degree in English from the University of South Dakota, specializing in contemporary Native American literature. He has also spent five summers of professional development studying with Craig Howe, the director of the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies (CAIRNS).
“As a non-Native scholar who teaches in NAIS, I constantly rely on the things I learned by listening to elders and Indigenous community members while living in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and the concepts and theories from my time at CAIRNS,” Twenter reflected. “I attempt to ground my scholarship in Indigenous pedagogies; for example, one of the Indigenous philosophies I follow is to ask the students what they want to discuss and let them lead those discussions.”
Twenter prioritizes familiarizing himself with students’ communities and asks his students to share with the class any articles, journals, or other media coverage of issues important to them.
“There are students from all over attending FLC and it’s important that we teach issues and texts from those communities,” he says. “Students feel like it’s a different way to learn than they’ve ever been taught because the majority have been at Western schools their whole life. It’s particularly important at a school like FLC that more professors teach in an Indigenous way.”
Two Bears embodies this way of teaching as well. For her, being an educator has always come naturally, and she is eager to share her knowledge of Native peoples and her Indigenous perspective on Archeology. And she finds incredible meaning in connecting with the students here at FLC.
“I really appreciate the potential to educate and mentor Native American students here,” she beamed. “It feels really good to be at the base of Dibé Nitsaa, the sacred northern Navajo mountain, my traditional homelands, and to be able to teach Navajo students.”