Tribal Learning Certificate Trains a New Generation of Leaders


Students, instructors, and pod leaders with UCLA staff at UNEX’s Downtown Los Angeles location during the final presentations for the Tribal Leadership and Community Development Certificate’s Tribal Economic Development class.


In partnership with the Tribal Learning Community and Educational Exchange (TLCEE) at the UCLA School of Law, UCLA Extension has launched a new certificate to provide Native American high school students with greater opportunities to attain a college education and cultivate the skills and knowledge they need to serves as future leaders of Native communities.

The Tribal Leadership and Community Development Certificate is believed to be the only program of its kind in the country. By taking college-level courses on issues germane to their communities, Native American youth can strengthen and demonstrate the academic, leadership, and personal qualities that will help them apply for university admission. The mission is to prepare them not only for college, but for serving as future leaders of their communities.

Native American students are the most underrepresented group in higher education. In 2011-2012, American Indian and Alaska Native students made up only .9 percent of the national student enrollment population at Title IV higher-education institutions. While UCLA Extension has had a long-standing relationship with TLCEE through our collaborative efforts in developing and offering courses within Tribal law and governance, no programs existed that address the specific needs of Native youth. Dwight Lomayesva, TLCEE Director at the UCLA School of Law, recognized not only a need, but an opportunity to serve Native youth in a partnership with Extension through this certificate program.

“In many respects, our Native communities have a mistrust of academia through so many years of failed inclusion within the overall education process,” Lomayesva said. “What we are accomplishing now is to bridge our Native communities with academia through a program that is culturally significant to our communities and trains our students to be more knowledgeable on contemporary Tribal issues. Only by doing this can our Tribal and Native communities be well-suited to meet the demands of governmental policies on Tribes and the growing globalization of our world economy.”

It took the close collaboration among UCLA Extension’s Legal Programs, TLCEE, UCLA Undergraduate Admissions, and leaders and educators of various Native communities, to design, tailor, and launch the courses that would ultimately make up the certificate. The program began offering courses in Fall 2014; since then, there have been just under 200 enrollments. The students are generally from reservation schools, though not all are. Students meet in their own areas in self-organized groups called “pods”; twice per course, all of the students gather together.

The instructors are UNEX instructors, most of whom are professors at colleges and universities in the pods’ local areas — and two of whom are UCLA professors: Wendy Teeter, curator of archaeology at the Fowler Museum; and Laura Miranda from the UCLA School of Law. The courses challenge the students to explore issues ranging from federal Indian law and Tribal sovereignty to cultural resource management and Tribal economic development. Students in high schools from Bakersfield to San Diego have taken part.

The courses feature online instruction, regular on-ground support for the pods, and a moot court competition in which students from different Tribal communities learn and present oral arguments on important contemporary issues affecting Indian nations.

“Truly we are creating Native students who can pursue higher education,” Lomayesva said. “But more importantly, we are creating Tribal leaders.”

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