Designer Biography

(These biographical and autobiographical statements pertain to Carmelita Lamb’s curriculum unit, Tribal Legacies of Pathfinding.)

Blue Roan Horse effigy by Butch Thunderhawk

Blue Roan Horse effigy by Butch Thunderhawk

Tribal Legacies of Pathfinding is the work of Carmelita Lamb, Department Chair of Graduate Studies and Distance Education at the University of Mary, Bismarck, ND. Dr. Lamb has devoted the larger share of her professional career to teacher training and development of American Indian students enrolled in the tribal college to become Birth to grade 12 educators. She is of mixed heritage: Hispanic and Lipan Band of Apache. Although born and raised in south central Texas, she has completely immersed herself over a period of 33 years to the Northern Plains, and has particularly strong personal ties to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. Dr. Lamb is most noted for her love of science and the incorporation of Native Ways of Knowing into the science curriculum of PreK-12 classrooms. She has contributed multiple stories to the Tribal College Journal describing teacher education at Turtle Mountain Community College, served as a reviewer of scientific abstracts and proposals for the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), is a Mellon Fellow through the American Indian College Fund and is a contributing writer for the Mellon Tribal College Research Publication Series. Carmelita is an avid horseman and enjoys extended time in Nature picking berries, gardening and canning.

My Story: Personal Pathfinding, by Dr. Lamb

One of the most profound outcomes of my work on this very important project has been the way in which my mind relearned what the phrase “Lewis and Clark” truly meant. Let me begin by sharing my first recollections of what the Lewis and Clark Expedition represented to me as a young child. It was of an obscure journey of individuals of whom I had no personal reference or context with respect to the tremendous significance of this trek. In the environment of a south Texas classroom this story was touched upon briefly and with almost no significant detail as to the nature of the travelers other than the connection to the Louisiana Purchase and the tremendous amount of land acquired by the United States for such a small price! Later as an adult, and especially since my time with Native peoples of the Ft. Berthold, Turtle Mountain, Standing Rock, Spirit Lake, Crow, Blackfeet, Lummi and Yakama Reservations, this story has taken on cultural, societal, historical, and educational transformation in my understanding of how the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition needs to be recounted in the Honoring Tribal Legacies placebased multiliteracies curriculum.

As I approached the task of curriculum design, I was first drawn to the huge scientific “dataset” available for study. In my mind, I designed a curriculum entitled, Legacies of Pathfinding that needed to invoke complete immersion by all students in multiple sensory experiences that would involve the sciences (biological, botanical, geological) in a diverse and deeply collaborative way. The overarching theme—who were the people serving as hosts to the Lewis and Clark explorers and why was their role so important to this story? This question drives the entire Legacies of Pathfinding curriculum. Thus the teachings of this curriculum were and are designed to act as a launching point for both student and instructor discovery.

I am a former North Dakota Horsemanship 4-H state coordinator and a certified high school science teacher. I taught in secondary for 6 years in a high school that had a 95% enrollment of American Indian students. This school was in a county that continues to have the highest poverty rate in ND. Many of the students were in single parent homes or lived with extended family members. Most came from families who did not have high school graduates. For most of these students school was a place to get a meal, a means of survival in the most basic of ways. The idea of being engaged in science was certainly not a priority for my students. Their experiences in this subject had been without cultural context or personal meaning up to this point. Yet I knew they were intelligent, innovative and curious. The problem to me seemed to stem from a lack of motivation and self confidence in their ability to learn.

I began to research in the most rudimentary ways different strategies that would get my students away from the textbook and into the real wonder of science. My classroom moved from one collaborative project to another throughout the course of the academic year. Students spent time learning how to use technology for the purpose of discovery. I let them tell me what they wanted to learn about a particular subject and then I allowed them to pursue their interests within the content area. I honestly believe the shop teacher in that high school began to dread seeing me in his doorway for he knew I wanted something…wood, tools, PVC pipe, wool mesh, copper wire, nails, electrical tape…the requests were never ending. Through it all though, I believe that those students actually looked forward to coming to science class because they knew we were going to make something happen. This same philosophy of deep immersion, culturally responsive, collaborative, making something happen instruction, can been seen throughout this curriculum.

Much of my career since that time has been in higher education within the tribal college and university (TCU) system, specifically teacher preparation for Native students, it seemed logical to pilot the Legacies of Pathfinding curriculum with preservice Native teachers. The intent and inspiration was to model a highly engaging, deeply contextual learning experience that would invoke skill development in science certainly, but also in literary research, artistic design, and projectbased cooperative learning.

Through this pilot process much was learned with regard to Native student perceptions of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. While all students knew of this historical event, many stated they never made the connection between the survival of the travelers being dependent upon the generous “hosting” of the numerous American Indian tribes along what is now referred to as the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (hereafter referred to as the Trail). During the research phase of the curriculum necessary to create the timeline and identify multiple tribes living along the Trail, students were filled with a sense of wonder, surprise, and pride at what American Indian people actually contributed to this epic journey.

With this joy of discovery also came the realization however, of how differently the story had been told to each of them in primary and secondary school. It was at this point that I asked the crucial question: “How will you teach the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition when you become Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary teachers?” Here is a sample of their responses:

  • “I think it’s important for students to know about the highly developed systems of commerce and trade that Indians had established long before Lewis and Clark.”
  • “The idea of how much tribal people contributed to this journey and that not one person was ever killed or harmed by a Native person is important to me.”
  • “I thought it was interesting how the map given to Lewis and Clark by the Mandans was so important to the navigation along the Trail. The Mandan map is not talked about much, I would emphasize that more.”
  • “In the textbooks that I read in school Indians were always portrayed as savages. That is wrong, they gave so much more than they received from the explorers, they were generous and kind and so knowledgeable in science. I think this is something that I would really emphasize about this unit when I do it in my classroom.”

Their responses reaffirmed the appropriateness of my strategy to pilot the curriculum with preservice teachers. Once the students had completed the Legacies of Pathfinding curriculum they were eager to pass their new found knowledge and Indigenous perspective of this historical event to their students in a much more balanced way which completed a circle of understanding inclusive of both Euro and Native American contributions. Through this deeply engaging learning experience, the beautifully rich perspectives of all Native people along the Trail are honored, thus truly becoming a lesson about Honoring Tribal Legacies for us all to appreciate.

I have grown intellectually, extended myself emotionally, embraced the social aspects of the community we created in my classroom, and have grown spiritually while designing the Legacies of Pathfinding curriculum. The experience left me with a grounded and profound understanding of the benefits that Native students receive when they look at themselves in a more positive and enduring manner.