November 2013

Promoting Awareness and Wellness (PAWs)

Ashford University is proud to show you our PAWs! That is, our Promoting Awareness and Wellness initiative! Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.

NOVEMBER 2013 NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH



The museum of Man in San Diego has exhibits honoring the Kumeyaay people, with which Ashford University's Dr. John Bathke (right) has
worked closely, as well as artifacts from many different Native American tribes.

Dr. John Bathke is an Assistant Professor with Ashford University’s College of Business and Professional Studies. He received his Juris Doctor from the UCLA School of Law and is using his education to provide support to tribal governments in Southern California. While Dr. Bathke is a member of the Navajo Nation, he has worked with a number of different tribes. To recognize Native American Heritage Month this November, we’ve asked Dr. Bathke to share how he honors the rich traditions of Native American communities through his ongoing work.

A Passion for Cultural Preservation

When speaking with Dr. Bathke, it’s clear that helping protect American Indian sacred sites is his passion. Recently, he served as the Historic Preservation Officer for the Quechan Tribe, who live on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation in Arizona and California. “There is a big push of developing utility scale renewable energy projects in public land in the deserts in Arizona and California, and a lot of that impacts the sacred sites of the Quechan as well as other Indian Nations.” Dr. Bathke works to balance the efforts to provide renewable energy while leaving sacred lands and archaeological sites undisturbed.

Fighting Stereotypes

To truly understand the nature of the work Dr. Bathke does, it is important to forget some common stereotypes. “Generally speaking, most Indian people are not from gaming reservations. The image is a little skewed, because many people think that a lot of Indians have casinos. The vast majority of Indian people don’t have those economic resources.” According to Dr. Bathke, unemployment, a lack of higher education, and limited access to quality health care are just a few of the problems currently facing these communities. “There are a lot of areas in which Indian communities are underserved.” This statement is reflected in the numbers. In 2010, the percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives that were in poverty was almost double the national average. While poverty statistics soar, only 13% of people in the Native American populations had obtained a Bachelor’s degree or higher; the national average is 28% (American Indian, 2011).

In addition to the unique challenges these populations face, Dr. Bathke, in his work, has encountered plenty of adversity, sometimes taking the form of ignorance and bigotry. While describing his work, he details one of his experiences. “A newspaper reporter wrote an article basically saying that Indians were lazy, that renewable energy developments on culturally important land are the new version of manifest destiny, and that Native Americans should stop complaining.” Dealing with these prejudices is a challenge to say the least. “I thought that the time of total disregard for Indian culture had passed, but it’s still alive here. It was a wake up call for me.”

Embracing the Sacred

Despite the challenges, prejudices, and misunderstandings, Native American communities keep fighting for their culture. “Those issues, fundamentally, are spiritual issues; the spirituality of a culture, of a people. And so as an extension of that, I really view my work, when I can help Indian people, as also a spiritual exercise. In that regard when I can make progress, it makes me happy spiritually.”

When he describes his most poignant moments in working in these different communities, it’s easy to see where Dr. Bathke gets his inspiration. “When I was working at Quechan, part of my job was to work with a local cultural committee. They were basically elders that were involved in these issues. So when cultural-related issues would come up, I would have to consult with them. In working with them, there were a couple of elders, and they took me under their wing while I was there and taught me; they would explain these sacred sites to me. I really felt honored that they would share that knowledge with me.”

Sharing knowledge is a big part of Dr. Bathke’s world. In addition to teaching at Ashford, he also works as an instructor in UCLA’s Tribal Learning Community and Educational Exchange Program, a program that “Joins Native peoples’ perspectives, knowledge, priorities, and visions for the future with the academic world…” (Tribal Learning, n.d.).

Dr. Bathke’s reason for dedicating his services to these efforts is simple. “A lot of it comes from me just wanting to help the community, to help Indian people.”

References:

American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month (2011). Retrieved October 23, 2013 from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_special_editions/cb11-ff22.html

Tribal Learning Community & Educational Exchange (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2013 from http://www.law.ucla.edu/centers-programs/native-nations-law-policy/tribal-learning-community-educational-exchange/Pages/default.aspx