Saturday, March 31, 2012

Redefine "Indian" and "Education"

For what its worth, I have spent my entire adult life working with children; and spent most of my childhood caring for them.  They were all "Indian."  We were all "educated" at the local, state-funded high school.

This year, while I was teaching in my classroom, the students and I were talking about the high school itself; the community; etc.  One of the students suddenly sat straight up in his seat and repeated what I had just said aloud; only phrased as a question:

     "You mean that this is a state-funded school on a federal Indian Reservation?"

     "Why yes, it is," I replied.

My student shook his head in disbelief, as though he could not merge those concepts together.  He laughed, more like, scoffed.  I think that lightbulb that went on somehow dimmed another area in his academic career.  When we studied things that he wasn't interested in thereafter, he seemed to shut down.

Was I not to state the fact as we studied our relationship with the other entities around us?  This often plagues my mind as I explore "Indian" concepts, thoughts, and philosophies of "education;" that perhaps the truth makes the children angry.

I explored this one year as I taught middle school Language Arts.  I had been teaching about the Black Hills land rights case and the laws and treaties that correlated with the history of the ancestral lands of many Tribes, mine included.  The class of 8th graders and I spent about 2 weeks total on this as a combined reading and writing project.

It was my observation that as our study deepened, and the students were asked to make decisions about forming an opinion about whether or not he/she would one day vote to take the money, most seemed upset and fervently stated that they "would never sell the Black Hills," and/or stated such things as: "We cannot sell the blood of our grandfathers that spilled on those grounds, fighting to save it for all of us."

In a conversation with my father during the teaching unit, I had asked him,

     "Do you think that I should be teaching this to the students if the history is making them mad?"

     He had replied, "They were already mad.  You just explained to them why."

The current Lakota generation sees so much challenge.  This generation has grown up with nothing but war that they hear about, that their parents pay for, that happened in history, that is happening on foreign soil.  This generation has grown up with the gory images of death on television, the death count, and the fact that they will spend their lives paying for something that happened throughout their childhoods, but which they did not understand.  This generation knows no peace.

What the non-Indigenous scholars and educators that come onto the reservation to "solve the Indian problem" need to understand, is that it is only the Sicangu Lakota people who can change things for themselves and their children.

Since before 1855, our Lakota people have been involved in one war or another.  It started out with the US government trying to kill us, then to corral us, then to take away the land, then to take away our children, and now to take away our sovereign rights.  We have fought for every living thing that our children came to be since the early 1700's, after surviving many, many rashes of diseases brought by Europeans.

My philosophy is this:  perhaps, just maybe, this generation is tired.  Perhaps their spirits are old, and they are tired of fighting.  Perhaps they don't need, as one student put it recently, "bossy, mean teachers."  Perhaps they need a different environment.

I think as a Reservation, we need to lose the whole, "Save Us," attitude.  I think we need to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and find a way to end all of this constant historical trauma from repeating itself in "Indian" schools.

It is time to redefine the word, "Indian."  The Bureau of Indian Affairs in itself is an outdated name; and grants for Indian Education are granted from the Department of Indian Education.   Most treaty language and other documents deal with the term "American Indian" at best.  But if you do a Google search for "Indian movies," you will hit 100,000 movies for films made in Indo-China and India.  This term of "Indian" is antiquated (not to mention an English derivative of a Spanish misunderstanding and/or interpretation).

Finally, "Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children."  It is overdue.  It is time.  It was time 20 years ago.  Self-determination and action combined is what our children deserve.  We can do well as a Nation because many Tribes do well as Nations.  Let's build a Nation and make some local decisions about what works for Sicangu Lakota wakanyeja.

The current education of our children on the Reservation is lifeless; without hope.  It is time to stop depending on people to come in here from the outside and help us; and help ourselves because we have the tools, the people, and the historical success and prowess to do it.

Wopila Tunkasila lila waste!

- Quote is by Sitting Bull.

I am a red man. If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place.
Sitting Bull

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  1. I think that if I was taught the true history of my people while in elementary school I would have had nothing to do with the government in later life. However, I received the same education all kids did in the 1970’s at a state funded school. That is we were told what the victors wanted to be known. I like many kids went on to serve in the military and as an aerospace government contractor after. Now at middle age I look back and see what a lie it all was. What I did was not the lie, but who I did it for was. I think our children should know about the past so they can guard themselves for the present and future.

  2. Wayward Son,

    Thank you for your comment. The "victors" are still alive and well, I am afraid, only now it is done less up-front, and more underneath the watch of the Native American who is wise enough to pay attention and care about the plight of his/her own children in a Rosebud Sioux Reservation state-funded school. It is sad that our children cannot know the truth, because our own Native American educators are being pushed out because of the truth that NEEDS to be told.

  3. I wholehearted agree that education on the reservation is practically worthless and a very limited endeavor. A student would have to be extremely motivated to escape the system with a diploma that actually represents intellectual achievement. Most students are pushed through and most are satisfied with that "achievement". Could this be why most college bound freshman end up back on the rez after a year or two? Absolutely. It does have significant future ramifications.

  4. Nice information....Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, research. That's why there are various Colleges in India, which provides them the education Thanks for sharing a valuable information...


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