Importance of Language and Culture on Agenda at NIEA Convention
The 44th Annual National Indian Education Association Convention and Trade Show was held this year in Rapid City, South Dakota from October 30 to November 2. Teachers, administrators and policy makers came together to teach, learn and continue building the road to sovereignty and self-determination.
“The emphasis of the whole conference is with your education, to help your people,” said Connie Twins, Hidatsa/Mandan, who participated in a language preservation workshop. “Learn your language and find out more ways to reach them and teach them, and pass on what we know.”
Oglala Lakota President Bryan Brewer noted that on Pine Ridge many educators were kept from attending by the lack of funding due to sequestration. Brewer said education must be a priority for all Indian people and, “It is the key that unlocks the shackles that bond us.”
The effects of poverty have plagued Indian country for 400 years, Brewer said, adding that the hardest thing is helping the power elite relate to the problems poverty breeds, such as alcoholism, abuse, and housing shortages. “That is why education is the key: to open the doors of opportunity, to allow them to explore life without the dramatic effects” Brewer said. “We have to provide them with opportunities, but also the tools. And how do we provide the funding?”
Brewer has long been a proponent of culture and language in the classroom. “We had the boarding schools, but today that’s not the case. Students can learn at an early age that education is important. It’s important they understand who they are and where they come from, and learning their language allows them to do that.”
Language preservation was a topic of utmost concern for many. Speakers estimated that without efforts to retain the languages, most would be gone in 25 years. Heavily attended workshops and lectures offered ways to incorporate culture and language into daily studies.
As three presenters left their workshop, “Revitalizing Language Through Leadership, Positive Attitudes and Inter-Generational Cooperation,” they beamed with excitement about the response to their program. More than 90 people had attended the program, led by Joyce Twins, Cheyenne, lead language teacher of the Cheyenne/Arapaho Language Program in Oklahoma. “There were a lot of people in the same boat,” Twins said. “Everyone is always looking for ideas from other tribes.”
Twins said that their program works with Head Start and childcare and the language is being taught in the public schools, not just to Native students, as a World Language course. They are documenting the language, putting it on CD, and gathering the elders because, as so many other tribal nations noted, the younger generation is changing the language.
The Common Core Standards also came up throughout the conference. Dr. Walter Kahumoku III, noted that there are many opportunities for combining Common Core with Native culture in the presentation “Implementing Common Core: The Opportunities and Challenges For Native Education.” Kahumoku is the director of public education support, Kauhale Kipaipai Department of Public Education in the Kamehameha Schools in Hawai’i.
Reading from a Vine Deloria Jr. text, keynote speaker David Coleman said Deloria’s books, and many others by Native authors, could be used to meet all the requirements of Common Core, culture, and college board standards. Coleman played a leading role in the development of Common Core State Standards and is now the president of the college boards.
While there were no workshops on reconciliation, speakers and presenters said that with reconciliation, progress is more easily achieved. Brewer founded the Lakota Nation Invitational, a unique tournament that includes most of South Dakota’s reservation schools. Now entering it’s 36th year, Brewer said, “We were an all Indian conference, but one year Chuck Cuny (the late Lakota educator) said, ‘Let's change the name from the All Indian to the Lakota Invitational and let’s invite non-Indian teams,’ and we did.”
The invitational now hosts 32 teams from South Dakota and brings in the best basketball players throughout the state. Brewer said, “We tell our students, Make Friends! Those wasicu boys, they will be the bankers one of these days! Get to know ‘em!”
A similar message was given by speaker Keith Moore, currently serving as the South Dakota director of Indian education and formerly as the director of the Bureau of Indian Education. Moore grew up in a border town, the son of biracial parents—in school, he either felt he was not Indian enough or not white enough. Moore said that through athletics, doors opened for him and he came to understand the importance of reconciliation.
Moore’s mentors helped him become a better athlete and person. “Both Natives and non-Natives believe stereotypes,” he said, stressing that people need to come together in the spirit of working to help the children.
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