Maasailand: A Study in Community Activism is a 12-credit field studies program offered to undergraduate and graduate students of Prescott College during summer semester. The program, which first ran in 2005, is a unique experiment into how a university program might offer deep and genuine support to an indigenous community’s struggle for justice.
The course is taught by Meitamei Olol Dapash and Mary Poole, and various other American and Kenyan faculty, and structured differently every year in response to particular needs of the Maasai community for research and education.
Research products from this course can be viewed on the Publications Page.
Students studied the political economy of tourism and human wildlife conflict, and then conducted research into the impact of the tourist industry on Maasai communities surrounding both the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and Amboseli National Park.
Research was conducted by interviewing lodge managers and employees, tourists, Maasai leadership, tour operators, and undertaking a literature review of related work. The class presented its findings to the Narok County Council, Kenyan Wildlife Services Community Partnership program and the country’s Public Prosecutor. Two additional articles were written for publication in East African newspapers. The first an expose on the exploitative practices of tour operators in Maasailand, and the second on positive efforts by Maasai leadership to manage the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.
At the request of Maasai leadership in Amboseli, students researched the history of the government’s assumption of the Amboseli National Park, traditionally part of Maasailand, in the wake of renewed administrative interest in handing the park back to the management of Maasai communities.
Research largely based on interviews and archival research. A final paper was presented to members of parliament and the Kaijiado County Council, and contributed to the furthering park management agreement.
Students wrote biographies and children’s books, telling the life stories of two Maasai activists/community leaders, for publication and distribution to Maasai primary and secondary schools.
We are seeking funding to publish and bind copies of these texts for wider distribution.
Students conducted historical research into the history of a 30,000 acre piece of Maasailand, in an area known as Mau Narok, to inform the efforts of the Maasai community to recover the land. Students presented the research in August, 2008, and several days later 700 Maasai community members organized a protest on the land. The research formed the basis of a law suit filed in Kenyan High Court in April, 2010, to recover the land, paid for through fundraising efforts by students. Learn more about Mau Narok and Maasai land rights.
Students conducted further research to support the ongoing Mau Narok suit including research on successful Indigenous land rights in other former colonies. They researched two additional potential Maasai land rights cases, in Kinangop and Magadi, and developed a library and archive focused on land rights. This work was presented in Narok on August 7, 2010, to the Mau Narok legal team, Letengule and Associates, Nairobi, community members from Mau Narok, and Maasai leadership.
Students continued further research into the Mau Narok land rights case and supported the community’s activism with presentations on media coverage of the case, context for specific government initiatives, and the impact of Kenya’s new constitution on civil rights of Maasai people involved in the movement for land rights at Mau Narok.
Students provided information about global social movements to Maasai land rights activists, university students and religious leaders, focusing especially on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and Indigenous land rights in North America.
The class focused on the global water crisis and issue of global food security and how those are experienced in Maasailand. The class undertook research into water use to support an on-going community based water project in the region.
The class undertook a spectrum of work in these areas: 1) Students gathered research on education for cultural survival focusing on use of mother-tongue in Kenya and in global indigenous communities; 2) They prepared the ground for a new community based water project by interviewing community members, plotting the scope of the project using GPS, and preparing a video for fundraising. 3) Students assisted researchers with historical land loss and resistance, documented an 100 year old massacre site, produced a series of maps and contributed to a community presentation; 4) They designed a green development plan for the Mara Field Station; and 5) They developed curriculum and built community collaboration for a Maasai Field Guide Training Program to be held in 2016.