Sustaining Indigenous Cultures

Tori Saneda, Cascadia Community College

Summary

Student teams will research an indigenous culture focusing on issues of both cultural and environmental sustainability as they are related to modern development. Utilizing this assignment, students will employ anthropological concepts, e.g., cultural relativism and holism, to gain a holistic understanding of indigenous cultures. In the process of researching their chosen topic, students will learn about human rights and social justice.

Learning Goals

Research on the culture group's history and ecological setting is necessary to gain a holistic understand of the cultural changes driven by development. Students are required to critically present the information using anthropological terms and concepts.

The focus of the project will be on development issues: How is development impacting the group? What cultural traits are impacted? How are norms changing? What is the environmental impact of development? How is the culture group responding to the issues associated with development?

Context for Use

This team project is designed for a quarter-long introductory course in cultural anthropology; however, it could be easily modified for an introductory biological anthropology course as well as upper division courses in both of these sub-disciplines, human geography, environmental justice, and environmental law. The assignment is designed to help students gain a holistic understanding of an indigenous culture, bringing together topics from the course-putting them into a real world context. It is also an opportunity for students to look an issue in social justice.

This is a quarter-long project. Early in the quarter, teams are formed and class time set aside for library instruction. It is recommended that students be given class time to work on their projects, minimally one class period; two would be optimal. Shorter time blocks could also be utilized at various times throughout the quarter.

Description and Teaching Materials

The Assignment

Students research an indigenous culture's history, ecological setting (this must be specifically related to the culture group, e.g., where does the group live, how does the geography affect the group), and development issues (globalization, modernization, development). The focus of the project will be on development issues: How is development impacting the group? What cultural traits are impacted? How are norms changing? What is the environmental impact of development? How is the culture group responding to the issues associated with development? The latter question should include information on NGOs and other organizations that may be aiding the culture group sustain their culture. Research on the culture group's history and ecological setting is necessary to gain a holistic understand of the cultural changes driven by development. Students are required to critically present the information using anthropological terms and concepts.

The Learning Activities

Ideally, this class is designed so that assignments and in-class activities prepare students for the Sustaining Indigenous Cultures project. Preliminaries for main project:

First Day of Class: Brainstorm compare/contrast characteristics and environment of a tropical and arctic people. Introduces students to interaction of culture, biology and environment. [in class activity]

Second/Third Week: Create a personal culture collage. A culture collage should be a visual representation of an individual's culture; this could be photographs, drawings, magazine photos, etc. This activity encourages students to think critically about the components that make up their individual culture and what influences their worldview. [individual assignment; can be adapted for short in-class presentations; can be done as a non-graded activity or part of class participation]

Third Week:
  • Video: Show a video such as Whale Rider or Smoke Signals. Students free write to identify cultural traits and connections between people and environment; follow with small group or large group discussion. [in class activity]
  • College culture: for this activity, students work in small groups (3-4) and describe a spot on campus, e.g., coffee cart, library study area. Direct students to find a place on campus to observe for 15-minutes. Have students make note of behaviors, artifacts, decor, etc. Students find and read an ethnography. Answer series of guided questions. Helps students to understand cultural anthropological research and apply what they have learned so far; helps develop library skills [individual assignment]
  • Video: Patterns of Subsistence. Brainstorm list of characteristics for all four types of subsistence strategies. Discussion of relationship between behaviors, food resource, and natural environment.
  • Think, Pair, Share: Students pair up; each is given a short article related to sustainability within a cultural anthropology context; identify main points and share with partner. [in class activity]
Week 8 or 9:
  • Ethnography and Ethnology: Students work in pairs to make observations of a local place/activity. This assignment should be due late in the quarter so that students can practice applying holism and cultural relativism to their own culture to better understand the interaction of culture, biology and environment before applying it to the culture group the team has chosen to research. [see below for Sample Instructions for the Team Project]
Final project:
  • Within the first two weeks of the quarter, students are assigned to teams. Create a team contract. It can be beneficial to take some time to teach students how to work in groups. See Resources section for links on group work. Have a clear policy on how team members who fail to do their work will be handled.
  • Teams chose an indigenous group to research. Introduce students to databases that they can use to find an indigenous group, e.g., Ethnic News Watch or eHRAF.
  • Library instruction. If possible work with librarian to develop instruction session that introduces students to research techniques, databases, and the library catalog. Allow teams time to do some preliminary research on their topic. Now would be a good time for teams to change topics if they have difficulty locating information.
  • Allow students to use some class time to work on their project.
  • Team presentations. Peers evaluate presentations.
    • Suggestion: divide teams up into two groups-half of the teams present while the other half evaluate, then the teams change places. This method requires that the teams make their presentation several times to small groups for 10-15 minutes. This allows for a less intimidating forum and gives the audience a chance to interact with the presenters.
Student reflection and peer-evaluation.

Team Project (Microsoft Word 44kB Oct25 11)
Team Project Evaluation Form (Microsoft Word 43kB Oct25 11)
Team Member Evaluation Form (Microsoft Word 38kB Oct25 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is important to have the teams start working together early in the quarter so that they bond; devising several in-class activities help facilitate that outcome. Consider including in-class activities in class participation points to encourage student involvement. For the final presentations, it may be beneficial to require the students create a couple of different types of modalities, e.g., posters and a manipulative.

Assessment

This assignment has several outcomes [developed to adhere to Cascadia Community College's college-wide learning outcomes: 1) Learn Actively, 2) Think Critically, Creatively & Reflectively, 3) Communicate with Clarity & Originality, 4) Interact in Diverse & Complex Environments, as well as the published course outcomes].

Learn Actively:
  • recognize key elements of human culture and have a basic understanding of fundamental cultural anthropology concepts: demonstrates ability to apply cultural anthropology concepts to real world setting
  • interrelate personal experiences and societal forces within the context of cultural anthropology: demonstrates awareness of effects of modern development utilizing an anthropological perspective; demonstrates ability to understand the rights of peoples to meet their basic needs and choose their own path of culture development that is line with their worldview
Communicate with Clarity and Originality:
  • clearly express thoughts about human culture and adaptive processes: no spelling and grammar mistakes; presentation is creative; required elements present; information is presented clearly; reflection is thoughtful
Think Critically, Creatively, and Reflectively:
  • understand how to look at culture at various levels (individual, community, national): team demonstrates ability to examine a culture within its cultural context, yet indentifies larger national and international cultural interactions; all required elements present; critiques the tenets of modern develop in relation to cultural sustainability
  • be able to assess the interaction between culture, biology and the environment: team is able to identify the relationship between the indigenous culture and both natural and cultural environments and how change can impact culture, environment, and biology
  • understand the difference between making an argument from fact versus opinion: team demonstrates ability to use facts to support claims; uses authoritative sources suitable for college-level research
Interact in Complex and Diverse Environments:
  • work on cooperative and verbal skills through team work
  • understand the rights of peoples to meet their basic needs and cultural development in a manner that works within their worldview

References and Resources

Librarians

Evergreen State College