The Dave Larsen American Indian Immersion Experience: Creating Transformative Educational Experiences for Indigenous High School, College & University Students

Year: 2019

Author: Munro, Ana

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This qualitative, indigenous storying research study explores how American Indian high school, college, and university students develop their indigenous identity and improve their academic success through participation in a short-term cultural immersion experience, the Dave Larsen American Indian Immersion Experience. The DLAIIE is an annual five-day tour of American Indian reservations, tribal governments and schools, Indigenous elders and leaders in Minnesota and Wisconsin for high school, community college and university students. The study focuses on the role American Indian elders and hands-on, placed-based, experiential learning, as well as participation in cultural and ceremonial activities, play in this process. Storying from an Indigenous perspective frames this study as it gives voice to participants from a marginalized group using their traditional story-telling form and is founded on relational accountability; on mutual respect, reciprocity and responsibility between participants, community, culture, places and experiences.

Two research questions guide this study:

RQ 1: How does participating in this program impact students’ indigenous identity?
RQ 2. How does participating in this program impact students’ academic success?

As a result of centuries of colonization and federal assimilation policies such as the Removal Act of 1830, the Dawes Act of 1887, the American Indian Termination Policy of 1956 and the Boarding School era of 1860-1978, most American Indians are born and grow up off-reservation, in large urban areas away from their traditional homelands and community. American Indian students are educated in predominantly white institutions, with no teachings about their language, cultural, history, and identity as Indigenous peoples. Minnesota has one of the largest urban Indian populations in the United States yet indigenous students have little connection with their culture, traditions, land and language and this aspect of their identity is not reflected in the education system. Minnesota’s opportunity gap for American Indian high school and college students is the one of the worst in the nation, with 41 % of American Indian students graduating from four year institutions, compared with 45.8 % of Black students, 57.3 % of Latinx students, and 65.7 % of White students.

Preliminary findings indicate that the Dave Larsen program, now a college class, has a significant impact on participants’ cultural identity and academic success after just a few days of immersive learning. More research needs to be done on the impact of such programs on participating communities, as well as a study that incorporates the knowledge, voices, and stories of participating elders.