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Protecting the Promise: Indigenous Education Between Mothers and Their Children

reviewed by April N. Horne & Jameson D. Lopez - November 08, 2021

coverTitle: Protecting the Promise: Indigenous Education Between Mothers and Their Children
Author(s): Timothy San Pedro
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807765015, Pages: 214, Year: 2021
Search for book at Amazon.com

Education for Indigenous children is shifting to a positive paradigm centered in Indigenous worldviews and resisting the years of federal and state education policies focused on eliminating Indigenous culture (San Pedro, 2021). It is becoming evident that the modern era federal government policies, although far from perfect, call for Indigenous-centered education (Nelson et al., 2021). For example, federal policies within the past 30 years proclaim that preservation of Indigenous language is essential for Indigenous youth, awareness and knowledge of culture and history, increasing both student and community pride (Native American Languages Act, 1990). In light of policies such as these, San Pedro illuminates the existing Indigenous structures, where this actively occurs, in the nurturing environment between mothers and children.

In Protecting the Promise: Indigenous Education Between Mothers and Their Children, Timothy San Pedro (2021) uniquely frames the fluidity of education passing between mothers and their children, ultimately emphasizing how crucial lessons of Indigeneity (p. xix) grow from this relationship. As part of the Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies series, this book contributes to the impact of employing such teaching and learning strategies as a way to engage Indigenous youth. In addition, by magnifying the personal and critical teaching moments passed back and forth between mothers and children, San Pedro asserts the legitimacy of education in informal settings (p. 1), expanding the spaces/places where education is acquired, and declaring Indigenous education methods in a world where mainstream education implies only Western academic knowledge (p. 12), thereby demonstrating how intergenerational education rematriates (Tuck, 2011) Indigenous education back into Indigenous teachings.

The book includes the re-storied narrative of five Indigenous mothers representing different Tribal Nations, all with roots to Indigenous lands in Montana. With a personal connection to these mothers and to the land, San Pedro (2021) utilizes an Indigenous framework of research centering these shared stories as friends rather than as a researcher and participants. This method of exploring culturally relevant pedagogy primes the audience for the family teachings, which are shared in the same way with the reader as it would be shared in an intimate space between family, friends, and community members.

Throughout the journey of exploring the lessons taught within the home, relevant conversations surrounding the development of an Indigenous identity, cultural teachings and language reclamation, and navigating settler colonial systems are all prevalent.


This chapter follows the earliest stages of the relationship between mother, Michael, and her infant daughter, Mali. Juxtaposing her own disconnectedness from her community, Michael is reclaiming her own Indigenous identity despite her own upbringing in which settler colonialism [had] been disruptive and destructive, (p. 26) and supporting her daughter to develop a deep connection to land, to people, to community (p. 27). Michael and Mali demonstrate tender teaching moments in their participation in their tribal annual pilgrimage, parenting in the Longhouse, and the powerful lesson of the presence of love and community in acquiring Indigenous knowledge and teachings.


Channeling her peoples legacy, Alayna shares stories evoking honor and pride such as living the stories of old&bringing nations together for a great cause (p. 41) during the #NoDAPL movement, where Alayna developed the Defenders of the Water School. Alayna shares how the Defenders of the Water School allowed for young people to get [the] education they deserved in a place that was rightfully theirs (p. 45), further enforcing that Indigenous youth identity is derived from learning of the strong family lineage from which they come (p. 52) and contrasting the obedience-training (p. 53) that institutionalized education harmfully teaches. In addition to empowering cultural identity, Indigenous education is back and forth and dialogic in nature (p. xxv), as both Kyyalyn and Waaruxti teach their mother, Alayna, in ways that demonstrate their own cultural identity and development.  


This chapter highlights the resiliency of Indigenous identity despite disconnectedness to land and settler-colonialist majority in education systems. Scyla, an Indigenous teenager is led by the example of her mother, Tara, as both learn how to channel the power in their Inupiaq identity and how to stand up to oppression. Combating the generalization that high-performing is a White thing (p. 75), Scyla continually and poetically expands the boundaries that Indigenous students are pigeonholed into.


This chapter explores the relationship between Kristina and her son, Demetrius, and the journey a mother takes in raising a son through high school. There are lessons taught on overcoming racism in a variety of contexts, including a lacrosse game, clothing store, and school. Furthermore, the talks Kristina has with Demetrius passes on their family stories of hardship, struggle, and victory. Kristina says, Were resilient people. People literally try to extinguish our culture&but were still here. This last quote offers the resilience and the tenacity that Kristina possesses to educate Demetrius.


This chapter again contributes to the two-way exchange of knowledge as both mother, Faith, and daughter, Daliyah, journey through their own higher education programs. Faith has concerns about Daliyah being disengaged from her Native identity. This is evident when Daliyah looks at their home and says to Faith, Mom! Whys our house have to have Indian stuff everywhere? However, throughout the chapter Daliyah expresses her Indigeniety through her own path of authenticity while also holding onto her Mothers teaching.  

While institutions of learning may still fall short in teaching Indigenous youth due to previous government policies, Indigenous education transmitted intergenerationally has already proven to endure time. Despite policies such as forced assimilation, infamous for attempting to kill the Indian, save the man, there are many aspects of Indigeneity preserved by family units, and this is a reason why Indigenous teachings exist today (Lomawaima & Ostler, 2018; Simpson, 2011). Now more than ever, Indigenized education is important to Native communities, providing a tool of positive social transformation and revitalization (p. xi) that bridges the gap left by a problematic government-led education system in order to meet the needs of Indigenous youth. This book is phenomenal in the writing style and stories, and is an exemplary model for how Indigenous education will continue to endure time.


Lomawaima, K. T., & Ostler, J. (2018). Reconsidering Richard Henry Pratt: Cultural genocide and Native liberation in an era of racial oppression. Journal of American Indian Education, 57(1), 79100.

Native American Language Act. (1990, September 4). https://www.congress.gov/bill/101st-congress/house-bill/5518/text

Nelson, C. A., Tachine, A. R., & Lopez, J. D. (2021). Recognize its our land, and honor the treaties. In Changing the narrative on student borrowers of color (pp. 1620). https://www.luminafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/borrowers-of-color-2.pdf#page=16

Tuck, E. (2011). Rematriating curriculum studies. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 8(1), 3437. https://doi.org/10.1080/15505170.2011.572521

Simpson, L. B. (2011). Dancing on our turtles back : stories of Nishnaabeg re-creation, resurgence and a new emergence. Arbeiter Ring.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 08, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23895, Date Accessed: 3/16/2022 12:31:02 PM

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About the Author
  • April N. Horne
    University of Arizona
    E-mail Author
    APRIL N. HORNE is Diné and a Ph.D. student at the University of Arizona Center for the Study of Higher Education. Her research interests focus on Indigenous student persistence and success in higher education.
  • Jameson D. Lopez
    University of Arizona
    E-mail Author
    JAMESON D. LOPEZ, Ph.D., is an enrolled member of the Quechan tribe located in Fort Yuma, California. He currently serves as an assistant professor in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona. He studies Native American higher education using Indigenous statistics. Additionally he has expertise in the limitations of collecting and applying quantitative results to Indigenous populations. He carries unique experiences to his research that include a 2010 deployment to Iraq as a platoon leader where he received a bronze star medal for actions in a combat zone.
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