No More PRANKS-Giving: How the Evaluation Community Can Start Rebuilding Relations with Indigenous Communities

Koolamalsi njoos (Greetings, colleagues and friends):image1

As the newest Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) Affiliate Researcher, I represent the oldest and least known communities on Turtle Island and Mother Earth: Indigenous people.  My Indigenous ancestors and relatives are on nii nooxw waak nii numoxoomus (my father Peter Bowman’s and my grandfather Morris Bowman’s) side of the family. Neekaawa Lunaapeewook waak Mohiikaneewi (they are Lenaape-Munsee and Mohican Indians).  Mohican (not the “last of” thank you very much) and Lenni-Lunaape Munsee (we were “renamed” “Delaware Indians” as we were “relocated” by the Europeans post-contact) are my Indigenous family and community members who arrived on this continent thousands of years prior to European contact in the 1400s, according to our oral traditions. For the reader’s convenience, I will continue the rest of this discussion in the language the colonial people forced upon Indigenous people when they arrived at and conquered Turtle Island (English).

We need to stop Pranksgiving, and this time of year gives us a chance to rethink Columbus and beyond!  So, as we embark on yet another “Thanksgiving” and Native American history “month” I’d like to offer a different, historical Indigenous perspective, “re-writing and re-righting” (Smith, 1999) the western narrative that the American story began when Columbus or Henry Hudson got here, and adding to or correcting the discourse and printed content which often excludes, is ignorant of, or provides a romanticized and incorrect version of Indigenous people’s perspectives, experiences, and contributions.  We were here before European contact, we’re still here surviving and thriving, and we will continue correcting the information regarding our Indigenous communities’ contributions to contemporary contexts.  This includes the wisdom and content that Indigenous people provide to modern-day educational, academic, governance, and other disciplines, topics, and contexts.

I am proud to be part of an evaluation community at CREA that is leading the way to encompass the history, values, perspectives, strengths, and contributions that our collective and strong diversity represents.  Some of these evaluation roots date back decades and some trace back centuries.  Others are unknown and/or are being re-awakened, recovered, and revived as we strive to understand our origin stories and the cultural, historical, and intellectual traditions of our Indigenous relatives and ancestors.  Undoubtedly, our awakening process is as critical to what we create as evaluators: designs, studies, publications, presentations, trainings, and transformative change that are sustained by the communities we humbly serve.  The journey as well as all the people, places, projects, and insights along the way provide a rich context in which we situationally understand more about ourselves, our traditions, our communities, and our broader academic context.

When the historical, contextual, technical, and content knowledge of Indigenous and underrepresented people is not woven into the more contemporary evaluation fabric, we are in conflict and ignoring the very mission, vision, values, and goals that our professional evaluation community (AEA) is supposed to uphold.  If we are to improve, increase, promote, and support activities that make for more effective evaluators and evaluations then as a profession, we must acknowledge, accept, and address the severe lack of equity, inclusion, ethical consideration, and legal protections critically missing from most evaluation activities, curriculum, studies, and discourse.

Current controversy provides a significant example for reflection and consideration.  Within both Indigenous and academic communities, I am often asked about the conflict surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the #NoDAPL counter-movement launched by human, water, and earth rights protectors from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.  #NoDAPL seeks to block a $3.8B, 1,100-mile fracked-oil pipeline currently under construction from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota to Peoria, Illinois. DAPL is slated to cross Lakota Treaty Territory at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation where it would be laid underneath the Missouri River, the longest river on the continent, endangering a source of fresh water for the Standing Rock Sioux and 8 million people living downstream. DAPL would also impact many sites that are sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux and other Indigenous nations.

As a culturally responsive community, and as competent and skilled evaluators, we all must understand the cultural, contextual, historical, and legal implications of DAPL and similar projects with Indigenous communities and Tribal nations.  This is one reason why the Indigenous origin stories must be part of the broader evaluation narrative so our “intellectual” evaluative foundations are aware, accurate, informed, inclusive, comprehensive, responsive, and responsible for situating our practice within a much longer and mostly unknown, destructive history than our contemporary publications, agencies, and evaluators acknowledge. Claiming expertise, ignorance, or other falsehoods is not acceptable if we profess to be a global evaluation community.

Like many projects – research, evaluation, and otherwise – conducted with Indigenous people, DAPL has deep, destructive, and illegal historical roots.  The project is in violation of treaty rights afforded the Standing Rock Sioux as a sovereign nation, reflecting the lack of recognition of Tribes as sovereign nations that stretches back to the earliest treaties enacted in 1774 between colonists and Indigenous Tribal nations.  How many research and evaluation projects have been enacted with Indigenous communities to “extract” knowledge and data without due consideration for Indigenous ownership of that knowledge and data?  Far too many!  And this must stop, for ethical, moral, legal, and professional reasons.

Reflecting on the DAPL project reminds us that our broader evaluation community is also about power, networks, and resources.  The perspectives and experiences of the “others” or “have nots” is greatly underreported in our evaluation, academic, education, and other contexts.  We only need to look at who gets funded, published, promoted, elected, or represented on key commissions, editorial review boards, or attends “invite only” events to see that while we talk about inclusion, equity, and diversity, there is little evidence of it in our “community” of practice.  What business interests, amount of dedicated resources, and professional practices are most prevalent in our evaluation community?  It depends on whose conference and what context you are in.  But the interests, practices and viewpoints of Indigenous and other marginalized groups are consistently and significantly absent!

DAPL and the #NoDAPL movement also remind us that our broader evaluation community privileges the written word and values certain evaluation voices – largely white and male – more than others.  A content analysis of AEA journals and evaluation published literature from the 1970s to the present (n=3,305 articles) demonstrates racialized and cultural incongruence issues that are consistently seen between program participants and evaluators stemming from white privilege, wealth inequities, and inequitable distribution of wealth along cultural lines in the United States.  Similar inequities appear when we consider whose voices are heard and respected in discussion around the DAPL project.  For example, DAPL was originally routed through Bismarck, ND, but was redirected in response to the voices of the powerful and political concerns of a municipality over drinking water.  However, voices against the inequitable, unethical, and unlawful treatment of a sovereign Tribal nation remain unheard, not covered by mainstream media as human or environmental concerns.  I welcome emerging voices that tell different stories in different ways – voices like those of Carl Sack, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is using critical cartography as a culturally-responsive and scientifically-sound method to provide a counter-narrative to the lack of media coverage of the historic, Indigenous and #NoDAPL perspective.



Figure 1.  Sack, C. (2016). The Black Snake in Sioux country: showing the Dakota Access Pipeline reroute through unceded treaty lands and its consequences.   Retrieved from

Where are the social justice evaluators and researchers?  Who will give voice to the historic and contemporary experiences and stories of the people, land, and destruction based on forced removal and contemporary trauma and violence stemming from DAPL? How is our evaluation community holding up the mission of “generating knowledge about effective human action” when we can’t even make a joint statement about #NoDAPL, let alone send a commissioned group of evaluators to ND?  Surely, the Canadian Evaluation Society and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission give us an example of how that is done!   Inclusion and action are the responsibility of everyone who claims to be a principled evaluator within the larger the evaluation profession.  Yes, YOU are being called to action because knowing better should mean doing better!  Standing Rock is just another contemporary example of centuries of injustices, destruction, trauma, and death dealt out to Indigenous people where most of the world stood by.  I am asking you at #NoDAPL and in other contexts to stand with us as global academic #warriors in solidarity as together as transformative evaluators.  In turn, you too will be transformed.

The bottom line is that I feel at home with CREA.  This is the interdependent place where we engage as family to draw enlightenment, continue to grow, and gather support from all races, ethnicities, contexts, cultures, socio-economic, gender, orientation, different abilities, and other diversity components as strengths to stand with us on the front lines.  Processing our ancient pain or contemporary trauma continues to be largely minimized, ignored, denied, and/or aggressively blocked by most post-contact people, institutions, literature, and systems.  Truly this can be paralyzing at times, and is a problem compounded by the low numbers of Indigenous academics who can add our communities’ voices to the mainstream narrative. So we need support, solidarity, and collegial partnerships.  CREA provides the place for speaking, sharing, and celebrating all that our community brings to evaluation; it is only through the stories, sacrifices, struggles, teachings and strengths of our ancestors/relatives coupled consciously and courageously with our CREA community that many of us Indigenous academics can continue.

In closing, I offer my perspective in the most humble and sacred way.  My words and vulnerabilities are my perspectives alone and are shared within context knowing that some of my Indigenous relatives died on the longest Trail of Tears journeys, were raped and killed by colonists, and continue to be treated as sub-humans suffering, traumatized, and dying on the lands that we were forced to move onto.  Yet we find ways to survive contribute and thrive.  As Waapalaneexkweew (Flying Eagle Woman; Accompanied by the Four Eagles), it is my responsibility to use my life to keep telling our origin and contemporary stories until the day Creator takes me back to the spirit world.  And from my deeply grateful heart, I’m so honored that we’ve created more academic, educational, and community spaces to share the truths of Indigenous perspectives that will continue transform us towards a more equitable and empowered future. I feel your strength, my beautiful CREA family, and I know Indian Country does too.  Anushiik (thank you) for being in it with us for the long haul.  We are one Tribe walking the Red Road, so see you soon.

Sincerely, Critically, and Indigenously Yours,

Waapalaneexkweew and my English name is Nicole Bowman (Mohican/Lunaape), PhD

Evaluator & Researcher, University of Wisconsin-Madison (

President, Bowman Performance Consulting, Shawano WI (

If you’d like more information to contextualize my comments, I suggest the following:


Bigelow & Peterson (Eds.). (2003). Rethinking Columbus. Milwaukee, WI:  Rethinking Schools.

Deloria, V. (1988). Custer died for your sins: An Indian manifesto; with new preface. Norman: University of Oklahoma.

Deloria, V. (1995). Red earth, white lies: Native Americans and the myth of scientific fact. New York: Scribner.

Hood, S., Hopson, R. K., & Frierson, H. T. (2015). Continuing the journey to reposition culture and cultural context in evaluation theory and practice.  Greenwich CT:  Information Age Publishing.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: research and Indigenous peoples. Dunedin, New Zealand: Zed Books Limited.