First-ever doctoral program on Tribal lands meets in-person for the first time
July 14, 2022
Students in the Muckleshoot cohort of UW Tacoma's Ed.D. program have been working remotely since the pandemic began.
Students in the Muckleshoot Doctoral Cohort in the Educational Leadership Doctoral (Ed.D.) program have been in classes together for two years, but met each other in-person for the first time on June 25, 2022 at the Muckleshoot Tribal College (MTC). The cohort started working on their doctoral degrees back in the summer of 2020. Pandemic restrictions meant the group could only meet online.
Each quarter since they started their classes, staff and faculty from the Ed.D. program and Muckleshoot Tribal College would meet quarterly (including Dr. Denise Bill, Dr. Michelle Montgomery, Ashley Walker, Amy Maharaj, and Dr. Robin Zape-tah-hol-ah Minthorn) to assess the status of COVID public health concerns. They decided to wait until this summer for in-person activity. “There are still options for remote participation this summer in case there is a need for access to classes in this format,” said Ed.D. Director Robin Zape-tah-hol-ah Minthorn.
The significance of the first in-person meeting resonates at an even broader level. As far as campus and Tribal leaders can determine, this if the first doctoral-level program of any kind to be offered on Tribal lands anywhere within the United States.
The ten-person cohort is comprised of students from the Muckleshoot Tribe as well as other tribes in the area and across the U.S. “We have one student in the program who lives in Utah and another that lives in New Mexico,” said Minthorn. “The student from New Mexico actually flew up to be part of the first day of classes.”
Two classes are being held this summer: TEDLD 577: Funding, Budgets and Inequities and TEDLD 591: Indigenous Leadership in Education/Community Contexts. The latter is taught by Dr. Denise Bill, who earned her doctorate from UW in Seattle and is executive director of adult and higher education at the MTC.
“Dr. Bill opened her class by taking us on a walk to the berry garden at Muckleshoot Tribal College,” said Minthorn. “She told us about the history of that area and how they are trying to create a connection to the local plants and local berries. That place-based education is at the heart of our program.”
Students later broke into groups and read passages from Dr. Bill’s Ed.D. dissertation. “She [Dr. Bill] actually interviewed nine Indigenous educational leaders across Washington,” said Minthorn. “For our students to read those interviews was really powerful because it helped them connect to intergenerational learnings and opportunities.”
Besides classes, the day also included a welcoming ceremony attended by UW Tacoma Chancellor Sheila Edwards Lange, Muckleshoot Tribal Council members Virginia Cross and Jessica Garcia-Jones, and UW Tacoma Tribal Liaison Gabe Minthorn. The ceremony included an opening prayer and the distribution of gifts from Dr. Bill to guests including students. The event also included remarks from campus and tribal leaders. Students got a chance to speak. “This group is really close and they call each other sisters, so it was really powerful to see them hugging each other for the first time. Until that moment they’d only known each other from those little boxes on Zoom,” said Minthorn.
This cohort is scheduled to graduate in June of 2023. The Ed.D. program and the Muckleshoot Tribal College are currently recruiting for the second doctoral cohort which will begin work in the summer of 2023. The group is also busy recruiting for a Muckleshoot master of education cohort which is slated to start this fall. “With the Ed.D. program and now the master’s, I think we’re setting a good example of what it means to cultivate a good relationship with a tribal community,” said Minthorn. “We never make a big decision without input from the Muckleshoot tribe and it’s always going to be about making sure this is a joint process and that we have mutual, reciprocal relationships.”