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CS Spotlight: Native American Scholars on Indigenous Identity and Computer Science

January 20, 2023
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This Native American Heritage Month, we’re reflecting on the intersections between Indigenous identity and computer science. Hear from April Lindala from Northern Michigan University and Cueponcaxochitl Moreno Sandoval from California State University Stanislaus about how K-12 teachers and educators should bring the intersectionality between Indigenous identity and computer science education to their own classrooms.

Cueponcaxochitl Moreno Sandoval: In my classes, I pose questions to my students: “Who am I, deeply? What are my stories of walking this earth? Who am I in relation to the concepts that we're learning in class towards whole liberations? How can I include these stories, or these practices, or these ways of seeing the world, into producing these programs?”

We imagine as a class what liberation is. Sometimes, when we think about liberation, we have to consider the absence of liberation. Restrictive language policies, state-sanctioned violence policies – this is the absence of liberation. So, how can we imagine liberation? And, it’s a co-liberative movement, because when we identify with a group, then not everybody will be like us. The co-liberation is that we're moving together in a specific direction that we'll probably never get to – but the process of getting there is the dignity itself. It’s leveraging the tools of the class for this very specific purpose that is connected to the actual students in the course. For 16 weeks, or an academic year, we focus on these concepts.

April Lindala: This is a complex conversation, and the problem can’t be solved through a one-day workshop. It takes relationship building and it takes time. Taiaiake Alfred is a Mohawk scholar, and he says that people have to go through a “Great Unlearning,” shedding some of their past knowledge before new growth can happen. And, especially with regards to understanding Indigeneity and inclusion of that in the classroom, especially if it's not Indigenous teachers, there's a whole learning curve. For teachers, that's a bitter pill to swallow – admitting that what they’ve been teaching is wrong. But we’ve seen that teachers are yearning for this education. It's not a one-and-done. It's going to take a little bit of investment, dedication, time, and an open heart, but an understanding that there's going to be some unlearning happening too. 

To learn more about how much work is yet to be done to expand access to computer science education to Indigenous students check out the California Computer Science Access Report.

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