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Decolonizing Higher Education in the Spirit of Place

Authors: Soren Larsen*, University of Missouri
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Higher Education, Cultural Geography
Keywords: place, Indigenous, higher education, stewardship, decolonization
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The University of Missouri (MU) is a large land-grant university located in the traditional territory of the Osage Nation. Like the state of Missouri itself, the Indigenous presence has been nearly erased on this campus. To take one example, MU has an enrollment of approximately 30,000 students, but less than sixty of those students are enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe, and there are only seven Native faculty members teaching across the entire university. This paper reports on an internally funded grant that aimed to “decolonize” MU’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources (CAFNR) by providing Indigenous pedagogical training to faculty, supporting the development of courses with Indigenous content, and creating an Indigenous Advisory Board. The failure of the grant to achieve its stated aims reveals the profound obstacles that confront the decolonization of higher education as a whole. Drawing from an Indigenous understanding of place as the relationship of things to each other, the paper argues that these obstacles derive from an ongoing reality of broken and forgotten relationships, and that decolonization in higher education must therefore reckon with, and learn from, place. It asks what it means—and what is required—to decolonize higher education in collaboration with place, and concludes by discussing recent developments at the university that have been achieved in the spirit of place, including an agroforestry property co-managed with the Osage Nation, and an Indigenous-led mural planned for the MU Student Center.

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