Research

The 2015 Native Early Childhood Education Symposium

“Honoring Our Youngest Learners: Enacting Our Vision For Native Early Childhood Education"

The 2015 Native Early Childhood Education Symposium, held on the campus of the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 1 and 2, 2015, brings together practitioners and scholars from tribal colleges, universities, Native communities, and early learning centers to share practices, analyze trends, and envision the future of Native early childhood education.

Native Early Childhood Education Symposium 2015. Sacred Little Ones and Ké Early Childhood Initiative sponsored a Native Early Childhood Education Symposium with the theme
as “Honoring Our Youngest Learners: Enacting Our Vision For Native Early Childhood Education” in May 2015 at the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute campus. The symposium served as venue to bring together indigenous scholars and practitioners in early childhood education. The symposium was well attended and many come from various national organizations. More about the Symposium


National Indian Education Association 2014

SIPIs Wakayeja “Sacred Little Ones” provided a presentation on “Developing Community through Parental Engagement.” The development of engagement and collaboration between parents and the Sacred Little Ones project was shared. The presentation provided a setting for discussion and reflection amongst these that attended.

Learn more about National Indian Education Association


American Education Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting 2014 and 2015

Left to right: Teresa L. McCarthy, Cynthia Benally, Timothy J. San Pedro, Danielle Lansing, K. Tsianina Lomawaima. AERA 2014

Sacred Little Ones provided presentations at AERA in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, the symposium session was “Examining and Applying Safety Zone Theory: Current Policies, Practices, and Experiences” within the Special Interest Group of the Indigenous Peoples of Americas. The symposium formed into a Special Issue in the Journal of American Indian Education, 53(3), 2014.

Lansing, D.R. (2014). Preparing Teachers to Contribute to Educational Change in Native Communities: Navigating Safety Zones in Praxis. Journal of American Indian Education, 53 (3), 25-41



In 2015, SIPI Sacred Little Ones participated in a session titled “Shifting Native Early Childhood Education: Toward Justice and Inclusive Family Engagement at the Earliest Levels of Education” within the Special Interest Group of the Indigenous Peoples of Americas.


SIPI has begun to share their best practices by contributing to the research community through scholarship. Dr. Lansing will present SIPI’s best practices in a symposium at the 2014 American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting.

Below is the abstract for the presentation:

In 2011 the American Indian College Fund through a W. K. Kellogg grant awarded four tribal colleges the Wakanyeja ‘Sacred Little Ones’- Tribal College Readiness and Success by Third Grade Initiative. A goal of the initiative is to improve the quality of early childhood teachers in Native communities through teacher training programs. Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), a grantee of this initiative, has worked hard to examine and improve its associate’s degree program in Early Childhood Education (ECE). As part of its efforts, SIPI offered a Special Topics course that focused on Native American curriculum development. This Special Topics course has provided the opportunity for students and teachers to develop the impetus to begin infusion of Native language and culture within early childhood classrooms. Students utilized Lomawaima and McCarty’s (2006) Safety Zone Theory as a lens to examine eras in Indian education as well as develop a critical perspective on the current educational climate. SIPI’s project activities with partner Head Starts also provided opportunities for further analysis and action. As SIPI seeks to create increasingly relevant programs, it considers theories and perspectives that students can utilize to further develop an increasing awareness and motivation to develop early childhood curriculum steeped in tribal language and culture. SIPI’s Initiative seeks to answer the following research questions:

  • In what ways does SIPI’s Special Topics course help mark the contours of the safety zones within a historical context?
  • How has the course “helped shape or shift, or respond to, wide-spread notions of safe or dangerous cultural difference?” (Lomawaima & McCarty, 2006, p. 14)

This data stems from a larger SIPI IRB approved phenomenological study. Data collected will assist SIPI in refining the Special Topics course for inclusion as a required course within the degree program. Methods of data collection include document analysis, personal interview and focus groups.

Preliminary analysis shows that students utilize the Safety Zone Theory to situate their own experiences and those of their family and community to better understand struggles to maintain Native language and culture. The Safety Zone theory provides a tool for students to examine context and practices in order to carve out spaces for developing culturally relevant curriculum within early childhood settings.

Brayboy, Fann, Castagno, & Solyom, (2012) posit that formal education provides the foundation for Indigenous citizens to pursue goals that benefit their communities. Through a Native nation-building approach students can increase their ability to create change in tribal communities. Castagno (2012) notes that teacher preparation programs often possess paradigms that do not allow for unique approaches that recognize the unique identities of groups such as tribal citizens. SIPI aims to utilize the Special Topics course to develop a Native nation building approach that recognizes the unique context of tribal communities.

This study illustrates the role tribal colleges can play in developing Native American teachers who possess the motivation and skills to develop culturally relevant curriculum in tribal early childhood settings.