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The aims and goals of NAES College were and continue to be a revolutionary approach to higher education. Through the creation of a college by and for Native Americans, NAES College emphasized a community-based approach to learning that provided incoming students with credit for their life and work experiences while building the next generation of leaders. What follows is the text from an original 1983 document—“The Statement of the Case for NAES College: Building a Model for Higher Indian Education”—expressing both the mission and philosophy of the institution.



To provide a quality educational environment for the student in a community related job or profession in order to develop communicative, analytical, and professional-technical skills directly related to that work position;

To provide a quality educational environment for the student to develop knowledge and understanding of the social, governmental, economic, and educational foundation of the student’s community, within an historical framework;

To develop a professional-credentialed leadership accountable to community whose ideology is one of community control and self-definition;

To develop within the Indian community a system of higher education with a degree granting process relevant to community needs and processes.

NAES logo on red table cloth with feathers, flags



A broad humanistic view is held which encompasses both the diversity and the commonality of the Indian experience of tribes, Indian communities, and American society. In the academic community the foundation of knowledge exists without question or commentary. However, to develop a model of higher Indian education which extends to the tribal world requires change—an integration of co-equal relationship between tribal and academic knowledge bases. To carry this out, NAES places a primary emphasis upon the intellectual and philosophical traditions of the tribal and Indian communities as the primary framework in which the universe of experience, learning, and instruction holds value for the Indian student.
Tribal knowledge is the definition of the environment from the tribal or Indian community point of view and is made up of three categories. The first consists of the oral tradition which traces the origins and classical cultural and language forms of the tribe to the present. Second is written or literate tradition first incorporated in the 18th century and those adaptations which are still taking place. The third is composed of the period of tribal-federal governance from the sixteenth century to the present, which contains the scope of federal Indian law.
Conventionally, within the academic framework, tribal knowledge has been defined from an academic perspective based primarily upon that first category or oral and classical cultural forms. This traditional limitation excludes a considerable part of the reality and historical traditions of a tribe or community. The NAES program extends conventional academic frameworks by incorporating an inclusive, expanded definition of tribal knowledge into academic units and ultimately into a degree.
From the beginning, NAES emphasized the importance of tribal knowledge. Indian leadership should know as much as they can about their own community. Largely what was offered in any university was from perspectives outside of the tribe and it often described the commonalities of the Indian experience in American history which were not based on the definitions by which actual tribes lived. Tribal knowledge is rarely articulated by the academic community. It is fundamental in the education of the NAES student.
A whole literature of its own has grown up around the idea of “mutual adaptation” in the educational change literature. The NAES position differs in that it sees a body of knowledge, not needs, rooted in the community’s perspective of the environment. The assumption is that which is in the community determines the value of action which a student must learn.
This concept is not highly developed in the annals of higher education. The prerequisite work of institution and program development is complex and dependent upon cross-cultural frameworks for structure and process. NAES faculty has stated: “We have not re-defined the relationship of knowledge to community, we have just insisted that when a school teaches within an Indian community, it uses the knowledge of that community as its base.” The introduction of tribal/community knowledge into the degree model places this view of community at the heart of the NAES program. The knowledge that defines the community is now the central core of the knowledge for the NAES student, and these definitions will be particular to each tribal community because each has a different history, culture, and language.
The role of the college is not seen as the dispenser of expertise, but, rather, as the articulator of the community’s perspective and values. This is the relationship between a conventional college and its community. Within the NAES philosophy, learning is not dispensing of wisdom, but, rather, providing a structure for learning to the student. This emphasis does not dismiss the disciplines and knowledge of the academy. Rather, it simply requires NAES as part of its mission to explore how they are connected to the life of the people of the tribes. The touchstone is not the academy, but particular human experience and the shaping of that new experience so that it maintains a continuity while at the same time directly facing the problems of the present.

NAES College
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American Indian Association of Illinois
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