Brayboy Honored With Prestigious Anthropology Award

Brayboy Honored With Prestigious Anthropology Award

Bryan BrayboyBrayboy's most influential scholarship is Tribal Critical Race Theory, or TribalCrit.School of Education and Social Policy Dean Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, one of the world’s most influential anthropologists of education, received the 2023 George and Louise Spindler Award for his work shaping the field, K-12 schools, and higher education.

The lifetime achievement award is the most prestigious honor given by the American Anthropological Association’s Council on Anthropology and Education. It was announced Nov. 18 during the American Anthropological Association’s annual meetings.

Brayboy, the Carlos Montezuma Professor at Northwestern University and a member of the National Academy of Education, has been praised by colleagues for nimble ways of thinking and rigorous research methods, as well as his warmth, humility, and genuine enthusiasm for his work. His most influential scholarship is Tribal Critical Race Theory or TribalCrit, a groundbreaking framework he developed in 2005 to help explain Indigenous peoples’ complex experiences with education, colonization, and racism.

“Professor Brayboy has proven to be one of the true leaders of anthropology and education in the last 25 years,” said Peter Demerath, professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Minnesota and a past president of the Council on Anthropology and Education. “He has drawn on his own unique history, inspiring vision, and compassion to imagine schools and universities that are, in a word, more human.”

In his acceptance speech, Brayboy emphasized the importance of relationships and the non-linear nature of transitions. His talk, peppered with historical insights, personal anecdotes, humor, and poignancy, captured how his work and thinking are always in transit, moving from one thought or project to another.

“At least for me, there’s a physical or material dimension to these kinds of movements and shifts and flows,” he said. “As people move or migrate, as they shift from one place or idea or position or point of view to another, as they search for resources or comradery, they often also experience emotional, rhetorical, sometimes even political shifts.”

Understanding the origins of these shifts, he argued, can help move the field of anthropology forward. “We must change the terms of the debate,” he said. “We must start anew with recognizing, honoring, and centering the ubiquity of humanity. We must dig into empathy, generosity, and abundance to explore new ways forward. We must transition. For all of us.”

Beyond 'the first'

Brayboy, a citizen of the Lumbee tribe, was nominated by Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, associate professor at the University of Idaho; Teresa McCarty, Distinguished Professor and G.F. Kneller Chair in Education and Anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles; and Sabina Vaught, professor at the University of Pittsburgh. At least seven others, including his doctoral advisor Frederick Erickson, Perry Gilmore, and other giants in the field, provided unwavering letters of support.

Nominators highlighted his pioneering scholarship and theoretical insights – often delivered in his distinctive storytelling style–and his mentorship and advocacy for students. Though he has often been “the first” Indigenous person in many higher education spaces, he stresses the importance of cultivating “the next.”

“His ethic of service to others is a catalogue of extraordinary leadership and creativity,” his nominators wrote. “His 25-year academic career can be characterized as an investment in people within higher education and work they will do with its resources well beyond its walls.”

In addition to TribalCrit, a globally cited classic in Indigenous studies, Brayboy’s research on Indigenous knowledge systems in schools has shed light on how people learn, teach, and define themselves in relationship with powerful systems and structures. It also offers new ways of moving institutions to think and behave differently, so that they are more open, humane, and suitable for people to thrive.

A fellow of the American Educational Research Association, he has authored more than 110 scholarly publications, including ten books and edited volumes, and policy briefs for the US Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academy of Sciences.

Over the past 20 years, Brayboy and his teams have helped prepare more than 165 Native teachers to work in American Indian communities and more than 31 American Indian PhDs.  

“He has a continuous and striking record of opening paths for Indigenous scholars in every university where he held positions through program and grant development, administrative policy influences, and his own inspiring scholarly publications,” wrote Gilmore, a former Spindler award winner and professor emerita at the University of Arizona and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Brayboy has been a visiting and noted scholar in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Norway. His work has been supported by the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, the Ford, Mellon, Kellogg, and Spencer Foundations, and several other private and public foundations and organizations.   

'What can I do?'

At Arizona State University, Brayboy was the President’s Professor in the School of Social Transformation and vice president of social advancement. During his tenure as director of the Center for Indian Education, he created an innovative undergraduate degree program at the Gila River for students from the Gila River Indian Community. He also led a similar on-site doctoral degree program for Pueblo professionals in New Mexico.

As senior advisor to Arizona State University President Michael Crow, Brayboy was known for his behind-the-scenes efforts, which equaled––if not surpassed––his public work, said retired professor K. Tsianina Lomawaima, who first met Brayboy when he was a graduate student under Erickson at the University of Pennsylvania.

“He is profoundly committed to furthering social justice through education and is a widely influential scholar adept at designing, funding and building effective programs,” Lomawaima said.

From 2007 to 2012, Brayboy served as President’s Professor of Indigenous Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks where he helped advocate for and co-develop the Indigenous Studies doctoral program. In addition to creating the Alaska Native Teacher Preparation Partnership Program, he also secured fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support Indigenous doctoral candidates.

“Bryan has been and continues to be one of my greatest teachers,” said Thea Renda Abu El-Haj, professor of education at Barnard College, who met Brayboy when they were both graduate students. “He has insisted that research must be conducted in collaboration with and for the benefit of, the communities with which we work. He has not only walked the walk, but he has created the path and guided us to follow.”

Amanda Tachine, assistant professor at Arizona State, worked alongside Brayboy as a postdoctoral scholar in the Center for Indian Education. In addition to creating a lesson plan for educators called Leveraging Our Place: Native Nations and Land-Grab Universities they collaborated on the award-winning Turning Points, the first magazine written by and for Native college students.

“Bryan is the glue, the seed, the push, for many of us,” Tachine wrote in her recommendation letter. “He helped me as a Navajo faculty by checking in frequently to see how we were doing and always ended our call with ‘What can I do?’ Those four words meant so much.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/27/23