Darold H. Joseph is a member of the Hopi Nation and a Ph.D. Candidate in the Disability and Psychoeducational Studies program at the University of Arizona, with a minor in Language, Reading and Culture. Mr. Joseph is known by his Hopi name Bahusompe (Spider Weaving a New Home) in his village of Moenkopi and also represents the Isswungmuy (Coyote Clan). He has previously served as a Elementary Special Educator and a Junior High and High School Special Education Administrator in the Hopi community. Through his experience Mr. Joseph has learned the relevance and importance in representing underrepresented communities such as Hopi in academic spaces to advocate for research and practice relevant to American Indian communities both in general and special education settings. His current research involves understanding the relationships between indigenous knowledge systems and Western educational paradigms, utilizing the historical lenses of indigenous ways of being and the impacts of colonization to further understand the development of cultural identity of American Indian youth with disabilities.

I am a Hopi community member named Bahusompe (Spider weaving a new home) from the village of Moenkopi on the Hopi reservation. I am a part of a community that shaped much of my cultural schema through hard physical work and a spiritual connection to place. Tending to the cornfields, working with livestock, and participating in ceremonial traditions are part of what makes me a member of my community and shapes my value of giving back to community. My decision to pursue higher education meant learning to negotiate and sacrifice pieces of my cultural schema to navigate the “institution” in order to be “successful” (whatever successful meant) by moving from my rural community to an urban university setting. I completed my dual degree in elementary and special education, partly because my mother was a special education teacher and also because I have a brother who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing. There were many times I had to choose not to return home to help with the cornfields and livestock nor to participate in ceremony, in order to complete my undergraduate program, followed by a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership. I then returned to my community on the Hopi reservation and served as a special education teacher and administrator.

Best Practices

In preparing AI students to be “successful” in a western educational paradigm while at the same time accommodating learning differences, I became acutely aware that I was mirroring the “teachers” of a couple of generations before me, who were part of an era when education for AI children meant assimilation into mainstream society. An approach that came at the cost of forcefully drowning out identities intricately connected to language and culture. Still I implemented methods and tools I learned from the higher education institution, better known as “best practices”. In doing so I perpetuated practices that devalued the strengths of my AI students’ cultures, languages, and communities. For example, I often facilitated Individualized Education Transition plans for students focused on postsecondary outcomes that also served as pipelines to urban communities—“best practices”. I vividly remember a time when I was rudely awakened of my “best practices” for AI students when a Hopi grandmother presented me with her transition plan for her granddaughter: how I could create a transition plan for her granddaughter to give back to her community by taking responsibility for the family home. I didn’t have an answer. The granddaughter was being prepared for postsecondary outcomes reflexive of the educational systems’ “best practices” without consideration for community values that until that time I had unconsciously devalued. My experience with the grandmother reminded me of the responsibility I had to facilitate meaningful outcomes responsive to community values that may not reflect the “best practice” of western education.  Best practices for AI students can be mediated by the idea of “Nu haki?”[Who am I?].

Nu haki? [Who am I?]

In answering “Nu haki”, I’ve begun developing a critical consciousness of the space I occupy as an AI educator. In that space, I have the responsibility of imparting students with the knowledge and skills necessary for the sustenance of their community. By saying this I mean that AI students’ ability to connect with a level of resiliency connected to community history develops persistence to become successful in education settings. Thus, experiencing success that is reflexive of their community identity, then sustains community. This implies responsibility on multiple levels. First of all, the responsibility of educators to understand that students come into the classroom with stories that “are roadmaps for our [their] communities”[i].  Secondly, students’ local communities must have a reciprocal responsibility with schools to equip their children with tools to answer Nu haki. Lastly, and probably the most difficult to achieve, is to recognize the contributions and valuable lessons counter narratives offer in facilitating change away from an institutional paradigm toward a community paradigm of education.

In my story I’ve learned that “best practice” was often a production of scientific and evidence based methods that did not include the needs or community based perspectives of AI students. The intent of offering these practices is unarguably to increase the academic achievement of students in Western education institutions for the “betterment” of society. Alternatively, I suggest that using the terms relevant and meaningful to reframe an institutional mentality toward a construct of nurturing culturally healthy children would be more in the line with actual “best practice” for AI students. By taking this alternate approach, we effectively shift the conceptualization of “successful” to be inclusive of community and less about individual competitiveness – a practice that may offer a more meaningful pathway to bettering our society. I conclude with a saying in my Hopi language that many AI communities encourage their youth with when pursuing education. By sharing this phrase, I encourage the community of readers to recognize the relevant and meaningful work you do.

Uma túuqayye´, umuusinmuy amungum lavaywisni.

[When you have learned, advocate for your people.]

 – Hopi Community.

[i] Brayboy, B.M.J. (2005). Toward a tribal critical race theory in education. Urban Review, 37 (5), 425-446, p. 427.




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4 Responses to “Shedding Light on “Best Practices” Through an Indigenous Lens by Darold Joseph”

  1. Elizabeth West on 11/26/13 4:54 PM US/Eastern

    Thank-you for sharing Darold – very powerful words.

  2. Darold on 12/4/13 11:03 PM US/Eastern

    Thank you Elizabeth! Very grateful! Kwhakway!

  3. Sweeney Windchief on 12/5/13 12:14 AM US/Eastern

    The IdeaPerspective centered in asking oneself…”Who am I?” in relation to multiple community responsibilities. This reminds me of Manulani Meyer’s statement, “How you move through the space that you are in tells us a lot about you.” Darold, you are moving through space that reflects well on your relatives.

  4. Michael on 12/5/13 2:27 PM US/Eastern

    Thank you, Bahusompe, for the work you are doing to re-frame the educational paradigm for our students. It takes the hard work of leaders in Indigenous Education, like you, to help us all along the journey towards better fulfilling the educations and lives–both cultural and academic–for our children.

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