Indigenous Voices: Educational Perspectives from Navajo, Native Hawaiian, and Ainu Scholars in the Diaspora

Indigenous Voices: Educational Perspectives from Navajo, Native Hawaiian, and Ainu Scholars in the Diaspora

This article recaps a June 18, 2021 webinar that featured three Native and Indigenous scholars and includes recommendations for using the webinar recording in classrooms.
SPICE Instructor Kasumi Yamashita speaks with Native and Indigenous educators Screenshot: SPICE Instructor Kasumi Yamashita speaks with Native and Indigenous educators

On March 18, 2021, the California Department of Education adopted the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. Chapter 3 of the Model Curriculum includes a section on “Native American Studies.” During a June 18, 2021 webinar, three Native and Indigenous scholars reflected on some of the key themes noted in the section and commented on the state of ethnic studies in their regions. The educators were:

  • Dr. Harold Begay, Superintendent of Schools, Navajo Nation
  • Dr. Sachi Edwards, Faculty Member, Soka University in Tokyo, Japan
  • Dr. Ronda Māpuana Fuji Shizuko Hayashi-Simpliciano, Vice Principal, Ke Kula Kaiapuni ʻo Ānuenue, Honolulu, Hawaiʻi

Kasumi Yamashita served as the moderator of the panel. The webinar was divided into three sections: (1) personal stories about the scholars’ Native and Indigenous identities and cultural backgrounds; (2) understandings of ethnic studies in the continental United States, Hawaiʻi, and Japan; and (3) insights and take-aways for K–12 educators to create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning environments for students.

In section one, the scholars commented on various factors that contributed to the formation of their identities. These factors ranged from being raised biculturally in the Navajo Nation bound by his traditional Dine’ (Navajo) culture and mainstream Western education in the United States (Begay); to ancestral ties to Ainu Moshir or Moshiri (“Land of the Ainu,” northern region of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, and southern Kamchatka Peninsula) as well as Hawaiʻi (Hayashi-Simpliciano); and to being a fourth-generation settler in Hawaiʻi with ancestral ties to Japan, but not learning of her Ainu heritage until adulthood (Edwards).

In section two, the scholars placed importance upon epistemology when considering the field of ethnic studies and teaching in general. Begay also emphasized ontology in the Dine’ philosophy, which has shaped his teaching. Hayashi-Simpliciano underscored the importance of teacher education and professional development in preparing educators to be welcoming of various cultural identities in their classrooms. Edwards noted that in Japan ethnic diversity is primarily viewed through the presence of people from other countries, with the assumption that Japanese are ethnically homogeneous, which has shaped the teaching of ethnic diversity in Japan.

In section three, the scholars provided numerous insights and take-aways for K–12 educators. Begay noted that in their teaching, Navajo Nation educators keep the four sacred mountains in mind. Hayashi-Simpliciano reflected that in her Hawaiian language immersion school, the educators are not “doing ethnic studies” but rather “doing heritage restoration.” Edwards argued that Indigenous studies—whether in Japan, Hawaiʻi, or the U.S. mainland—should not be taught just in ethnic studies or relegated to a specific subject; rather Indigenous studies should be interwoven with all subjects.

Educators may find the webinar recording to be useful in their classrooms and may want to use some of the questions and topics provided here.

Following the webinar, many teachers from across the United States commented that the topics that were shared are relevant not only to teachers in California but also to those in other states as well. Reflecting on the webinar, Dr. Kristyn Nicole Mahealani Hara, Outreach & Academic Coordinator at Stanford Global Studies, stated, “I found the speakers very engaging and learned a lot from their inspiring insights on the linkages between their lived experiences, Indigenous ontologies and epistemologies, and ways of foregrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion in educational practice. I especially appreciated their wisdom on ways of honoring the cultural heritage of students so that classrooms—and, by extension, schools—can be safe spaces for self-expression, healing, and learning, and the importance of integrating Indigenous knowledge across diverse fields of study.” SPICE encourages educators to review the resources recommended below.

This webinar was a joint collaboration between the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA), the Center for East Asian Studies, and SPICE.

—Additional Resources—
The following resources were recommended by the scholars.

Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum [website]
Native land acknowledgments and why they matter [article]
Appropriation of Marginalized Knowledge and Practice as Innovation [article by Dr. Sachi Edwards]

Navajo Nation
Harold Begay [bio]
Arizona State University Indigenous Land Acknowledgment [video]
When Geniuses Fail: Na-Dene’ (Navajo) Conception of Giftedness in the Eyes of the Holy Deities [book chapter by Harold Begay and C.J. Maker]

Native Hawaiian
Land Acknowledgement [website]
Hawaiian Culture, History, and Language Resources [website]
Indigenous Studies in the Elementary Curriculum: A Cautionary Hawaiian Example [article]

Ainu in Diaspora
Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages: Ainu in Diaspora [videos including talks by Dr. Hayashi-Simpliciano and Dr. Edwards]
Charanke and Hip Hop [dissertation by Dr. Ronda Māpuana Shizuko Hayashi-Simpliciano]
The Ainu and Their Culture: A Critical Twenty-First Century Assessment [book]
The Fabric of Indigeneity: Ainu Identity, Gender, and Settler Colonialism in Japan [book]

Ainu (Japan)
The Centre for Environmental and Minority Policy Studies (CEMiPoS) [website]
Our Land Was a Forest: An Ainu Memoir [book]
Future in MINE: Ainu My Voice [video]