Skip to main content
Alum Story

One Alum's Path From Corps Member to Professor

Meet Dr. Joshua L. Reid (Seattle ’94), a registered member in the Snohomish Indian Nation and associate professor of American Indian studies. Find out what led him to the corps—and how he continues to support K-12 education. 

Photo of Dr. Joshua Reid and others in a canoe

December 4, 2019

When Dr. Joshua L. Reid (Seattle ’94) joined the TFA corps in ’94, he could already see into the world of education and knew that he wanted more than the usual career path. 

“My mom was a teacher so I kind of knew what I was getting myself into as far as what it means to be a teacher. And when I finished up at Yale, I wasn’t enthusiastic to do what my peers were doing. I was thinking about the possibility of law school but wasn’t ready to make the commitment yet and I wanted to do something different," he says. 

Dr. Reid’s search for a different path led him to Teach For America where he started his classroom experience in Seattle, Washington. Originally expecting to stick to the two-year commitment, Dr. Reid ended up teaching in Washington for nine years before pursuing graduate school.

The catalyst for this decision actually took place in the classroom as he explained the rights of the Makah Tribal Nation to his students: 

“This was when the Makah Tribal Nation had harpooned a whale. They were expressing their treaty rights and basically in conversation with all the other agreements that the federal government had made. For me, my students had a lot of questions about that. So in explaining it to them I came to this realization that ‘hey, this could be a cool research project to look at the Makah relationship with the ocean in a historical way.’ It was through explaining it to my students that I came away with a stronger sense of purpose for coming back to graduate school.”

“"I’m not interested in only confining myself to archival primary sources, but I see a lot of value in indigenous ways in seeing the past.””

Dr. Joshua Reid

Seattle Corps Member 1994

Because of this spark, Dr. Reid pursued higher education in history. Now as an associate professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Reid is able to bring his identity into his work. 

“My identity makes it easier for me to mentor a lot of our Native students—to help them come to terms with being a Native individual in the academy," says Dr. Reid. 

He notes that his identify also has a profound effect on his research as a historian.

"I’m not interested in only confining myself to archival primary sources, but I see a lot of value in indigenous ways in seeing the past. It means I do an awful lot of world history work, it means I do a lot of my research in conversation with tribal nations, I reach out to tribal counsels for research. I ask how we can meet their needs and priorities, I listen to what their needs and priorities are.”

With teaching and research practices rooted in his identity, Dr. Reid helps students to not only understand themselves and their role as historians in sharing stories and supporting communities, but also takes time to dismantle misinformation and stereotypes around Native American cultures. Instead of residing in the past, Dr. Reid brings his classroom into the present to discuss the needs, rights, and futures of tribal nations all over the country. 

“Too often historians are comfortable studying Native individuals in the safety of the past. It leads to stereotypes of what authentic Indians are, how they look, how they act, and there’s a stereotype that real Indians are no longer around. A lot of it for me is unpacking that history and helping [my students] make the connection that tribal nations are quite vibrant and doing interesting work. It’s about the presence of Native nations today, and also laying the foundation for what other scholars and I call ‘Indigenous futures.’ These tribes are around because they fought for their continued existence and have a long history of fighting for a viable future.”

Beyond his pivotal work at the University of Washington, Dr. Reid has continued to support K-12 education throughout his career. He has worked to develop Makah Tribal Nation-centered curriculum in tandem with Makah educators and stakeholders, as well as writing a book on the Makah Tribal Nation’s maritime ties. Additionally, Dr. Reid supported the Smithsonian’s Native Knowledge 360 as a historical expert for the Pacific Northwest region. 

Do you know a Washington region alumni who should be spotlighted? Please reach out to peyton.laughlin@teachforamerica.org to recommend them.