Leaving the Rez: Eyeryday, Modern-Day Assimilation (for Kreestal)
Quick Story: I was on the “Indian Plan” on my journey through college, attending (seriously) six schools before finally graduating. I basically went everyplace that I could go for free, or alternatively, for really, really, REALLY close to free. I ended up going to four “mainstream” schools (two universities and two community colleges), and two tribal colleges. After college, I attended Columbia Law School (good gawd knows how they let me in after my vagabond undergrad experience). All in all, I attended five non-Native schools, and lived off the rez for about eight years of my life.
In hindsight, I think about that time in those non-Native schools and also living off the rez. I suppose I’m old enough now to have a bit of objectivity about that time in my life. I noticed certain themes and commonalities at all those schools—not good, not bad—just themes.
I had to be the “official” spokesman of ALL things Native. As SOON as any question, statistic or the word “Native,” “Indian” etc came up, all eyes turned to me. I didn’t mind—I’d give the requisite disclaimer, “All tribes are different, blah, blah, blah…”—yet try to answer the question as best I could. It was actually a blessing—it made me learn MORE about myself and my people and where I come from. I didn’t wanna pretend that I knew stuff simply because I was Native (I’ve watched many do this—speak blindly on behalf of their communities).
Still, this was a definite theme. “Indian question? Ask the Indian guy!”
Another consistent theme, at these non-Native schools, was a curiosity about how I made it away from the rez. This was interesting—I knew that the people asking the questions had good intentions; they weren’t asking in a malicious way. But there are two implicit messages in this question, and these are sneaky and ugly: 1) that the reservation is this place that needs to be escaped from, like a black hole, lest all hope and potential be sucked away. 2) That I was somehow different than the other people on the reservation because I was resourceful and smart enough to sneak away from the reservation’s destructive power.
Why Am I Telling You This?
Well, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I speak at a lot of colleges and universities and students oftentimes ask me what I think about education. PLUS, it’s squarely on mind because my niece Kreestal just got admitted to a very, very prestigious university. That’s cool—she’s a beautiful, brilliant kid (as are ALL of my nieces and nephews, by the way)—my family doesn’t really have a history of academic success and opportunities. So that’s a big deal. Her and I talk about this stuff. I know that there are a lot of those “Ask the Indian girl” moments coming up for her, as well as a lot of questions about how she “made it away” from the rez. Fortunately, she’s very well grounded in her community and family, and I know that she won’t provide the fodder that they’re asking for.
You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page