February 2, 2014

AISES: Highlighting Indigenous Talent: History, Law, and Recruitment Strategies

Event Highlights: Indigenous Talent: History, Law, and Recruitment Strategies

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) is a non-profit focused on elevating education and professional standards in STEM. AISES also emphasizes the importance of geographic, economic, and social dimensions in STEM education and careers.

In the U.S. today, Indigenous people are vastly underrepresented. This underrepresentation is rooted in a long history of systemic discrimination and oppression. During Sarah’s talk, she discussed some of the challenges faced by Indigenous talent, the importance of recognizing Indigenous sovereignty, and strategies for recruiting and retaining Indigenous individuals in STEM fields. The AISES team is doing incredible work, and currently hosts the largest college and career fair for Indigenous People in North America. Below are a few highlights from Sarah’s talk. We strongly recommend reaching out to their team to gain further insights into their organization and their work.

Understanding Indigenous Sovereignty

To address the underrepresentation of Indigenous talent, we must first recognize the unique legal and cultural status of Native American tribes. The U.S. Constitution acknowledges four sovereign entities: the federal government, foreign governments, state governments, and tribal governments. Native American tribes are sovereign nations with their own citizenship, laws (tribal, state, and federal), and legal status. Unlike other governments, tribal governments lack a tax base to fund essential services, historically relying on federal funding.

As federal funding for tribal governments has declined, they have increasingly engaged in economic development activities to generate revenue. This shift highlights the importance of acknowledging and respecting Indigenous sovereignty while working to include Indigenous communities in broader initiatives, such as STEM education and employment.

The Underrepresentation of Indigenous Students in STEM

Despite the growth in the American Indian and Alaska Native population, Native American students remain significantly underrepresented in STEM fields. In fact, they earn only 0.5% and 0.3% of undergraduate degrees in science and engineering, respectively. Traditional Indigenous knowledge provides different ways of approaching and arriving at innovation, and cannot be ignored if we are to propel ourselves toward the highest and best possible outcomes.

To bridge this gap and address inequities, we must adopt a "culturally responsive science teaching" approach. This involves integrating Indigenous traditional knowledge into science education, forming genuine partnerships with Indigenous communities, consulting Indigenous peoples in scientific research, and incorporating Indigenous culturally responsive teaching practices into the science curriculum.

Recruitment Strategies for Indigenous Talent

Recruiting Indigenous talent requires a thoughtful and culturally sensitive approach. Organizations must prioritize building relationships and trust with Indigenous communities. It is essential to be present in these communities, respecting their cultures and knowledge. Building honest and mutual relationships that prioritize Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination is key.

Recruitment efforts should involve connecting with Indigenous communities, leaders, and educators. Organizations should invest in meaningful collaboration with Indigenous communities to strengthen diversity and inclusion. Furthermore, recruiters should avoid making assumptions about candidates' knowledge and actively engage with applicants to provide support throughout the recruitment process.

Recruitment strategies for Indigenous people need to be unique in several important ways:

1. Recognize that many Indigenous applicants are first-generation college graduates with parents unfamiliar with the application process.

2. Avoid the "drop in and out" style of recruitment, as it is often ineffective with Indigenous candidates. Consistent engagement over an extended period is necessary.

3. Offer culturally competent support to recruited Indigenous individuals to ensure their successful retention within the organization.

Creating a Supportive Environment

To foster the growth and development of Indigenous talent in STEM, organizations can establish Native American Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) with support from high-level leadership. These ERGs can provide financial resources and opportunities for Native employees to attend events, trainings, and meetings designed specifically for Native individuals.

Through these ERGs, employees experience a greater sense of inclusion and belonging, which can lead to increased representation in managerial roles and a supported pathway to leadership positions. Additionally, organizations can collaborate with subject matter experts and organizations like AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society) to conduct workshops and lectures that help employees understand Native people and their communities better.

In conclusion, addressing the underrepresentation of Indigenous talent in STEM requires recognizing the unique legal and cultural status of Native American tribes, adopting culturally responsive teaching practices, and implementing thoughtful recruitment and support strategies. By embracing diversity and inclusion in a meaningful way, organizations can harness the valuable contributions of Indigenous communities and propel STEM fields to new heights of innovation and understanding.

Visit AISES or email Sarah EchoHawk at sechohawk@aises.org to learn more.

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