Indigenous Epistemologies and the Neoliberal View of Higher Education

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Structure and Agency in the Neoliberal University



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In 1991, a woman who is a member of the Blackfoot tribe in Montana, named Eloise Cobell, was told by a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) offi cial to “learn how to read a fi nancial statement” when she raised questions regarding the state of trusts held by the federal government on behalf of American Indian tribal nations.1 She took the offi cial up on his recommendation, attended a local community college, and learned how to read accounting documents, spreadsheets, and business plans. Later, she determined what many in her community and other American Indian communities already knew. The United States federal government had abused its trust responsibility toward American Indian communities and mismanaged billions of dollars in trust funds from the sale of lands, natural resources leases, and other fi nancial endeavors.2 Recently, she successfully sued the federal government for its abuse of these trust responsibilities.3 Ms. Cobell’s investigation and subsequent fi ling of a lawsuit highlight the complicated relationship in which American Indians’ uses of formal structures of western education and initiatives help to assert sovereignty and self-determination for a larger group of Indigenous people. It is this relationship between the use of mainstream education, individual success, and community survival that allows us to critique neoliberalism through an Indigenous epistemologies lens.

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