The following article about the Pacific Northwest Center for Mestizo and Indigenous Research and Outreach was published Dec. 4, 2012, and is posted with permission.
By Estelle Gwinn
Staff writer, Moscow-Pullman Daily News
Growing diversity at Washington State University spurred the creation of a new Mestizo and Indigenous Center at the College of Education.
“We’re located in an area where there are a number of local tribes and at the same time there’s an increasing Latino population in Washington state,” said Brian McNeill, co-director of the new center.
McNeill said he saw a regional need to address the common issues many indigenous populations face and started working to establish the center about two years ago.
“In places like Tri-Cities, Walla Walla and Franklin County the Mexican American population in schools is getting close to 70 percent,” McNeill said. “In communities like Pasco at least 50 percent are Latino. We need to start paying attention to what those demographics are.”
WSU has a responsibility to serve these populations, McNeill said, because it is a land grant university.
The center focuses on not only Native American populations but any indigenous groups, which refers to populations whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of a designated land or nation, McNeill said. The center also focuses on Latino populations, which are often part of the Mestizo experience, meaning they are forged from several different ethnic backgrounds. The center is one-of-a-kind in the Northwest region and possibly unique to the entire nation.
One of a kind
“There’s no question this is a unique center. There’s no other center we can identify in the U.S. that’s focused on Mestizo and indigenous populations,” said Mike Trevisan, associate dean for research and external funding at WSU’s College of Education. “There’s a variety of Mestizo populations in Washington who go unnoticed and unsupported. Hopefully this center will shed light on that and find ways to encourage support for these people.”
McNeill said the center is different from any others because it brings several groups together and addresses their common needs. He said many native populations do not consider Mexican American populations to be indigenous even though they have many of the same social concerns.
“From an educational standpoint it’s important to know what those commonalities are and break down some barriers, even amongst our own people,” he said.
An example of those common concerns is academic success and access to higher education, which center researchers are looking into now.
A 2008 study by WSU’s Clearinghouse on Native Teaching and Learning looked at the educational achievement gap among Native Americans. The study was commissioned by the Washington state Legislature and researchers are now following up on the Legislature’s progress.
Another study at the center reaches out to leaders in local Native American tribes and Latino communities, something that was not receiving enough attention prior to the creation of this center, McNeill said.
Finding solutions, together
“We want to ask them what they think our research agenda should be and what they see as the priorities,” he said. “That way we have the communities we serve setting the agenda for what they think is important.”
From the interviews conducted so far, McNeill has noticed that many groups want to be partners in research and help come to solutions as opposed to being the subject of research just for the sake of finding out something new about them.
Trevisan said the new center is a good fit, since diversity is a priority area for the college’s research profile.
“We are about educating people and doing community work,” he said. “As a consequence we are in a position of responsibility to promote these ideas and make known the needs within the region in particular.”
Published Dec. 4, 2012 and posted with permission