Why indigenous languages matter for mathematics education: a case study of Ichishkíin

Abstract

This article describes the initial work and next steps for the development of a mathematics curriculum in Ichishkíin, an Indigenous Yakama language. Framed by the Ichishkíin concept of pinak’inut’áwaas (mirror/window), our work seeks to answer the following questions: How are mathematical concepts represented in Yakama culture, and how is Yakama culture reflected in mathematical concepts? How can we respectfully and reflectively craft new Ichishkíin words to express mathematical concepts not reflected in Yakama culture? This is decolonizing work, and joins a growing body of Culturally Sustaining and Culturally Reviving Pedagogies, which center teaching and learning on the lived experiences of students while critiquing culture for the ways it both sustains and diminishes. Given the dominant nature of mathematical culture, a key tenet of our project is privileging Yakama culture and the development of Ichishkíin language. We discuss the values and respect that are foundational to our ongoing collaboration to craft curriculum.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Yakama Nation changed the spelling of the Tribe’s name in 1993 from “Yakima” to “Yakama” to align with the spelling in the 1855 Treaty with the USA. In our project, we focus on the Yakama dialect of Ichishkíin. In the US context, Indigenous peoples often refer to themselves as “Indian” or “Tribal.” For example, our Yakama Tribal Elder research collaborator would rarely refer to herself as “Indigenous,” and we keep the language intact to reflect the usage of our Elder collaborator.

  2. 2.

    For an extended discussion of Ichishkíin ordinal and cardinal number systems, see Jansen (2010).

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Jill Baxter, Joana Jansen, and the anonymous reviewers whose feedback strengthened this work. Thanks to Assistant Dean Aaron Bird Bear (Mandan, Dinatsa, Diné) for sharing his family’s story. Special thanks to Tuxámshish for her unwavering support, and the Northwest Indian Language Institute for their ongoing work. We acknowledge and thank Kalapuya Ilihi, the land that nourishes us.

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Correspondence to Jennifer L. Ruef.

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Ruef, J.L., Jacob, M.M., Walker, G.K. et al. Why indigenous languages matter for mathematics education: a case study of Ichishkíin. Educ Stud Math 104, 313–332 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-020-09957-0

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Keywords

  • Indigenous
  • Decolonizing
  • Language revitalization
  • Culturally sustaining