Shane Doyle on Place and Story

Key Points

  • Understanding the deep history of the land is crucial, as it provides context and connection to the place we live in. 

  • Promoting collaborative education that includes diverse cultural perspectives fosters mutual understanding and respect among different communities.

This episode of the Getting Smart Podcast is part of a new short monthly series where Mason Pashia is joined by Dr. Jason Cummins, a previous guest and a friend of the podcast, to speak with Indigenous leaders and academics to discuss how Indigenous ways of knowing and leading can, and should, shape the education system.  

On this episode of the Getting Smart Podcast, hosts Mason Pashia and Dr. Jason Cummins are joined by Dr. Shane Doyle, an Indigenous educator and researcher. Dr. Doyle shares his educational background and work in implementing Indian Education for All in Montana. The discussion covers the importance of teaching the deep history of indigenous lands, the role of storytelling in education, and integrating indigenous wisdom in modern land management. Dr. Doyle also talks about the benefits of outdoor activities and the need for a comprehensive curriculum that includes Native American perspectives.

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Introduction to the Podcast and Hosts

Dr. Jason Cummins: Hello, everybody. I’m Jason Cummins here, and my Crow name is Awachíikaate. I’m an Indigenous educator and ed leader. 

I’ve been in the field for a few decades, and I’m really happy today to have with us Dr. Shane Doyle. He’s a fellow tribal member, the first time I met with Dr. Doyle I was a beginning grad student, and he was brought in to, Visit with the cohort we were a part of welcome to the show, Shane. 

Dr. Shane Doyle: Thank you so much, Jason. it’s great to be here. let me introduce myself to the audience, my name is, Shane Doyle and, my Apsáalooke name is Chilup Kalia.

I grew up in, the town of Crow Agency, Montana, and attended the Crow Agency grade school. later graduated, from Montana State University. With three degrees, a bachelor’s in elementary education, a master’s degree in native American studies, and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction.

it’s interesting, you know, my career path has been so closely defined by Montana’s constitution. looking back when I was born in 1972, that’s when Montana’s constitution was passed. at the time there were a couple of different provisions in there that set the stage for 21st-century Montanans, but one of them was Indian Education for All. That particular, part of the constitution, requires Montana schools to teach about the unique and distinct, culture and heritage of the native people here in the state. when I finished my master’s degree in 2005, I had already been a public school teacher with four years of experience.

And that same year I finished my master’s in Native American studies, the state of Montana finally allocated funding to implement Indian Education for All, because right up until 2005, the state had never really, given it any money to design a curriculum or do any kind of professional development.

When all that happened, I was in a unique and good spot to help with the implementation efforts. ever since 2005, I’ve been closely involved with everything from curriculum design, to, professional development for teachers. I work at all levels, preschool, right up through, retirees, and grad students.

I continue to design curriculum and do research. I’m on a couple of different research teams, scientific, research teams from Montana State University. We’re looking at ancient ice patches in the Apsaraka Beartooth Plateau. I’m able to take that research and integrate it into the curriculum for public school teachers — a lot of the stuff that I do that I engage with as a researcher leads directly to my work as an educator. 

Collaborative Education and Indigenous Knowledge

Dr. Jason Cummins: I was reading your dissertation and one thing that really, struck me was, I believe you were interviewing, or working with some Apsáalooke elders, one of the, sentiments shared was to educate the non-Indians on the tribes history in regards to the place that they’re in this deep collaborative teamwork between cultures and communities and the emphasis on Diverse people learning from one another how have you taken that and applied it to your work now?

Dr. Shane Doyle: It’s a great question. all of my work is collaborative the sentiment that the Crow elders is that, this is our homeland and not enough people know that, they don’t know enough about, how we’ve taken care of this place and continue to influence it in a good way.

I’ve devoted a lot of my work towards illuminating the deep history of this place. And how the Apsáalooke people have worked in harmony, all our natural resources since time immemorial. that’s the reason why, colonists arrived here, they saw a landscape that was incredibly rich with, life and a healthy ecosystem.

when I helped to, bring that knowledge schools and to non Indians, it helped all of us to get a better understanding of the history of this state and will allow us to be better informed about our decisions going forward.

I think we need to empower our children by telling them the truth. giving them an opportunity to see with clear eyes and clear perspective what the history of this land is and where it’s going, you know, what the future has in store for us. I really feel like one of the most important aspects of education is to give people agency, give them an opportunity to change the course of history.

But they have to first understand, how that history has unfolded and exactly where we’re at within that context. That takes a lot of work. it’s not something that happens every day students have to be guided. Ah, lot of this is the value systems we have models.

I believe should be focused on, our wellbeing. how do we use education to enhance and enrich our lives? our connections to family, to the earth, to our deep heritage. all those things are what education in my opinion should be trying to do. I think sometimes we get lost.

And, you know, contemporary models about how education has to be the driver for our economy. of course, that’s all part of it. but at this flashpoint in, our species time on this planet, our climate catastrophe is, no longer an option to ignore. that should play into the sensibilities and values teachers try to instill in young people, because if you don’t do that, we’re basically ignoring the facts and our place in history.

Mason Pashia: So much of that rings true with, I think, the origins, of the word economy, actually translates to something like household management. It’s like, how do we take care of the home? even that word, is a lot bigger than we give it credit for. I want to build on one other thing you said You’re talking about the history of a place and making sure that people know it. when I was. researching you I found some really, wonderful articles about, Yellowstone that you had written that were rich with, stories of the place. I’m curious, separation between story and knowledge or history?

Dr. Shane Doyle: Or is that, overlapping in the same sort of pot Well, it’s a good question. I just came from a retreat this past weekend. It was all about storytelling and stories it’s hard to explain and really describe our lives without using stories to some extent. I think when we delve into, deeper scientific and technological aspects of our lives, stories become less relevant.

But let me just take a step back and say that from the Crow tribal perspective, a linguistic perspective, they say in the Crow language, the Apsáalooke language that, there’s, you know, three different types of histories and stories. from that perspective, all stories are different and contextualized in a different way.

You know, there’s the real ancient stories that came about before anyone today was alive. then there’s stories that people know of that are passed away, but that happened at a certain time. And then there are stories that we know of from people that are alive today.

From a historical context and just how we our community, stories are, there’s a lot to them. when we are allowed to contextualize stories from a historical perspective and a cultural standpoint, that in itself, is an exercise in, story analysis.

It gives us an opportunity to. reflect on the human condition by saying that, different stories from different people from different times that is the nature of humanity. things change in their dynamic over time. But, there are things that we keep with us that are important and sacred.

They remind us of who we are and where we come from.

The Importance of Place and History in Education

Dr. Jason Cummins: This weekend, the Crazy Mountain 100 is coming up, and you did a lot of advocacy work. I think that benefits. not just, tribal members, but all members of the public suggestions on how the crazy mountain should remain wild and sacred. How does this work in protecting sacred places, and benefit everybody who wants to visit? 

Dr. Shane Doyle: I’ve designed curriculum, for the crazy mountains. there’s a video that goes along with the curriculum. I was able to help co produce that with Montana Wild.

And that’s advocating for the protection of the Crazy Mountains. in this modern day and age, Native people have to play a role of providing wisdom to our society on many levels. part of the wisdom we need to provide to our contemporary society, is in the realm of land, especially public lands.

I’m working on an intertribal gathering coming up at Jackson Hole in October one of the themes we’re advocating for is bringing wisdom back to land management. when we look at land management from purely scientific point view and an economic point of view about money and, gathering data and, you know, we kind of take the wisdom out of that process of understanding what the land means, what it means to everyday people, everyone from little children, to elders, when those people enter that landscape.

They have a real mystical, experience by connecting to nature in ways those of us wrapped up in everyday life, don’t have an opportunity to do. our education system needs to explore and celebrate that, scientific data also shows that, nature is good for us.

It’s healthy for us. I have to say that I have great admiration for you, Jason, and, your incredible ability to get out into nature and endure, you know, ultra marathons. that’s something that I’ve never done and, something I aspire to someday. Thank you for your inspiration over the years.

Mason Pashia: I’m super curious. This is a bit of a tangent, but I think our listeners are now pretty curious too. What, what does running and these kinds of challenges mean to each of you? beyond just, I went for a run this morning for fitness, being out there in nature and in the land pushing yourself, It’s beneficial psychologically, spiritually, and of course physically, right?

Dr. Jason Cummins: Just being active, our ancestors throughout history, were always active. in today’s society, we could make a living without ever leaving our home. even getting kids out into the environment and moving. Schools and classes who have a lot of physical activity, their test scores tend to improve and their behaviors and moods tend to be better forcing children to act against nature and sit still all day.

Dr. Shane Doyle: And we just wonder, I wonder, how can we mitigate that? what are the ways, when I student taught in New Zealand, they had a pretty good day scheduled, you know, the longest the kids were in the classroom was an hour and a half. we’d go from nine to 1030, then have a break for half hour, come back in from 11 to 1230, then a one hour break, then one 30 to three.

So, um, you know, you only had to, and even when they were in the classroom for just an hour and a half. they were up moving around we were outside a lot and there was a lot of, group singing movement games the kids enjoyed it. And the day went by real fast.

as a student, in public schools, it seems to drag on I felt it as a student. I felt it as a teacher and I know my kids feel it teachers still continue to feel the drag of a school day. I think anything we can do to inject some, life, some joy, some real harmony into the community of the classroom.

We need to do that. 

Dr. Jason Cummins: It’s good stuff. Really good stuff. Thanks for sharing Dr. Doyle. thought of, knowing the history of your place in let’s say, um, what benefits do you think school leaders such as principals superintendents and, you know, teachers should know what benefits is there for them to know the history that their school district is located in.

Dr. Shane Doyle: It’s so important for, school administrators. teachers to understand the deep history of the place they’re in. that’s one disadvantage American public schools have over schools in Europe. when you go to Europe, you go to Germany or Denmark or other countries, you know, they’ve been there for so long, thousands of years their languages come from those places that, um, you know, there’s a harmony there that we don’t have here in this colony.

I like to refer to America as the colony, we haven’t accepted. where we’re at, you know, we haven’t matured enough as a society to recognize the deep history of a place like Montana. Montana is unique as a landscape. there’s no place like it in the world.

Because of the latitude we’re at, because of where we’re located, close to the continental divide, because of the, island mountain ranges, because of the, history of bison on the land here, the grasslands, all of those things, make Montana special and unique it seems like if you really want to understand that, you have to go to graduate school.

it shouldn’t be that way. You should understand that as a grade school student, teachers and administrators need to understand that because it helps put into perspective, what our life experiences are here in this state. it’s a quiet state. It’s, pretty sparse. I always tell people, the Apsáalooke and other nations who lived here for hundreds, thousands of years, didn’t measure their wealth with, material items.

they measured it through their ceremonial connection to the land and to one another. those are the kinds of values that come from this land if you’re a teacher or an administrator and you don’t know that and you don’t understand that, then you’re missing out on the true nature of this place.

once you learn that there’s a joy that comes with that. First of all, you know, there’s a happiness from. Beginning to learn more about, the birds that come in the summer, how the water changes during the years, the seasons. this idea that, nature is our wealth and that, our wealth is each other our culture, our languages.

Um, you know, I think that’s what education should really valuing and spending our energies towards. 

Mason Pashia: And just that wealth is shared, not possessed, right? Like that is a huge mindset shift from, how a lot of people are raised to think about wealth. 

Dr. Shane Doyle: Absolutely. It’s a shared wealth in the community is also that shared wealth, you really nailed it there.

If you’re just on your own, like in the old days and even today, people continue to go to the crazy mountains and other places to fast. you take that medicine back to your family, back to your community, you share it, you know, that’s what we do. when we share with each other, we’re all enriched, you know, we’ve become closer, we’ve become stronger.

And, you know, that’s the vision has allowed the Apsáalooke people to thrive, even under the most, uh, duress of circumstances. One of the topics we’re going to discuss at this upcoming intertribal gathering in Jackson Hole is wilderness. how do we redefine wilderness? How do we, get a better understanding of that term and how is it inclusive of indigenous people?

how has it been used to exclude indigenous people? There was no place, we didn’t go, every single place on this landscape, you could find a trace of, you know, or actually it wouldn’t be much of a trace, but if you dug deep, you could find some element that showed that we were there, 

there was land that no one was and we need to keep them out of there and keep them, you know, even Yellowstone park, represents that to many, uh, degrees, you know, um, the inability to really engage with the park, because it’s like a museum, we’re not allowed to take anything out of the museum.

those things are. Ideas we, hope to mature and do a better job of protecting those places and engaging them in the community. in them that are more healthy. So important. 

Mason Pashia: Even museums, I think are, kind of shooting themselves in the foot for, for lack of a better phrase with the ways in which everything is, untouchable and at arm’s length preserved for the sake of preservation.

Things need to be engaged with, things need to be used there’s a beauty in sharing experiences with objects as well as people. 

Dr. Jason Cummins: There is something to say with the knowledge you’re sharing Shane with educators people want to know the deep history of the land, some of our bands separated from the Hidatsa about 90 AD, 120 AD — that was about the time when there was the five great emperors in Rome. people really want that deep history. My wife and I were in Bozeman and the waiter was interested and we started visiting with him. I was able to share with him and remember the Apsaalooke place name map made with the circle with our four base poles.

And he was thrilled, just knowing why it’s the Absoraka Beartooth mountains. 

Dr. Shane Doyle: Most people don’t know that was all our reservation at one time, through a treaty, uh, 30 million acre reservation. that’s part of what, we hope kids will learn and understand and, and, and as they grow older, in ways their, prior generations weren’t able to do.

The Apsaraka name is used all around here, like the Realty, there’s Apsaraka chiropractor. next door is gonna be a Absoraka brewery, you know, and I mean, there’s some other Apsaraka You know establishments I don’t think anyone knows one time I went to Absoraka chiropractor and asked that guy, you know, do you know where their name comes from? He was like, oh it comes from the mountains I said, it actually comes from the name of my tribe, Apsáalooke. And he was blown away, the town of Absarokee and everyone disagrees over how to pronounce that. I tell everybody, there’s no way to pronounce it because it’s not a real word.

It comes from Apsaalooke. And so, um, it is strange that knowledge is ready to be, used. shared with the public and it’s right there on the surface many people know about it, but at the same time it’s invisible. that’s where the strangeness lies.

that’s where education has to step in and guide our, communities towards. a more comprehensive understanding of who we all are and where we’re at. 

Closing Thoughts and Reflections

Mason Pashia: It makes it additionally important to have indigenous educators and researchers at the forefront and the core of that education 

There is something to be said for knowing Seattle comes from chief Seattle’s name, but I was just reading a book on Like the Duwamish river. they were talking about Chief Seattle and kind of a conflicted character, in the history of Seattle, chief Seattle was definitely indigenous, but decided that a lot of other indigenous people would not have made, and therefore like a lot of things happen to people.

It’s really important that we focus and hold stories in tension with each other question them as well as, believe them. it’s messy, but so important. I’m super grateful you’re doing the work and you came here today.

Jason, any kind of thoughts or meditation? 

Dr. Jason Cummins: History is complicated and messy, because they’re all different stories. I would say to any of the educators listening it’s not in opposition, but in addition. including indigenous perspectives and histories of the land is in addition. Let’s, teach, Native American history in addition to United States history. it doesn’t have to always be an either or, it can be a both and. 

Dr. Shane Doyle: Yep, I agree 100 percent Jason, it’s up to us curriculum designers to create lesson plans and design content materials so that teachers really, in fact, can use one, you know, lesson to teach about a variety of, of, uh, historical points and concepts.

Dr. Shane Doyle

Shane Doyle is a Montana-based scholar, teacher, and community advocate whose work focuses on the history and heritage of Native American tribes of the Northern Great Plains. Shane is an enrolled member of the Apsáalooke Nation (also known as the Crow Tribe), and he holds a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction from Montana State University. His unique personal and professional experiences, combined with his deep curiosity and seemingly endless energy, have made Shane a well-known leader in many fields, including education, land use advocacy, and the arts.

Shane grew up in Crow Agency, Montana, and he did not have an interest in history until college, when a road trip with a professor opened his eyes to Montana’s rich Native American past. From that moment onward, Shane’s curiosity has continued to grow, and he has built his career around making Native American history a cultural mainstay in everything from Montana’s educational system to governmental land management decisions. Whether designing educational curriculums, making films, or singing Northern Plains tribal music, Shane is always focused on serving his community.

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The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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