Miranda Washinawatok, 12, is a student at Sacred Heart Catholic Academy.

Student Suspended for Speaking Native American Language


After a 12-year-old Menominee student spoke her Native language during class, she was suspended from playing in that night’s basketball game, and memories of past boarding school atrocities surfaced.

Miranda Washinawatok attends Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, Wisconsin. According to Native News Network, the school is more than 60 percent Native American and is about six miles from the Menominee Indian Tribe Reservation.

When Miranda was teaching a classmate to say “posoh” and “ketapanen” on January 19, her teacher scolded her. Native News Network reported her saying “You are not to speak like that! How do I know you’re not saying something bad? How would you like it if I spoke in Polish and you didn’t understand?”

The words Miranda was chastised for translate to “hello” and “I love you” in Menominee.

“Miranda kept saying she was only told by her assistant coach she was being benched because two teachers said she had a bad attitude,” Tanaes Washinawatok, Miranda’s mother, told Native News Network. “I wanted to know what she did to make them say she had a bad attitude.”

There is dispute over who actually did the suspending, but the school has admitted it “failed miserably in its handling of the matter.” Deacon Ray DuBois, the communication director for the Diocese of Green Bay, which operates the school, also told Native News Network that the school does not prohibit the use of any language and that “the number one priority is to help this girl.”

Miranda isn’t a troublemaker. Her mother told Native News that she is mature and respectful. Miranda plays basketball and is the team captain of a volleyball team.

“When it comes to Native language, Miranda should be proud she learned and can speak her Native language,” wrote Levi Rickert in a February 4 post on Native News Network.

Tara McGregor, a commenter at Nativenewsnetwork.com, says “As a teacher you have a responsibility to be culturally aware of your students and encourage diversity. This is a reminder to all of us that this type of oppression still exists. I hope that this example of ignorance is not forgotten, and we continue to move forward while creating a world that fosters children who embrace their heritage.”

Rhonda LeValdo, of the Acoma Pueblo and president of the Native American Journalists Association, wrote a piece for Native Connection stating Indian country's support for Miranda. She says: "All Americans need to know about the boarding schools. They need to know how the language was beaten out of many of our elders, so much that their children never learned the language for that fear of them being hurt. This all happened in this country and so many deny the abuses, but it happened."

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buffalohunter84's picture
Submitted by buffalohunter84 on
MY gosh I am confused .... This young lady wants to speak a language of the first nation and is suspended but we send our children to school to learn Spanish and French.. You would think that the first nation would take priority over any other language. Especially since they finally opened the records about the wind talkers and their part in defeating the axis armies.

speakingarrow's picture
Submitted by speakingarrow on
As an American I wonder where my country has gone. As a parent I am sad that a student, any student, would ever have such an experience. As a citizen I am outraged that a school would support a teacher who had such little understanding of the students in their classroom. As a former teacher I am hurt that our colleges turn out new teachers who can't think. As a former school administrator I am wondering where the local administrator will stand. As a veteran I wonder how my country could have gotten so far off track. Last but not least, as one with Native American blood running in my veins I think back to the words of great Native American leaders who predicted this tragedy. No, I don't think the teacher needs a second chance. One mistake this big is enough in a child's life.

sweetsonya's picture
Submitted by sweetsonya on
THIS IS SICK! It's history repeating itself, just short of beating or killing her! So, why do our kids have to learn spanish & french in school and in my city SF, CA...we almost have to know how to speak spanish to navigate around town, shop, etc. THIS IS SAD! I'm Native American & grew up on the rez till 12 years old, then we moved to SF, CA. I remember lots of bad stuff happenin with the Washichu (look it up) teachers and how they tried to erase our traditions...DIDN'T WORK, I push even harder to keep our traditions alive! ALL NATIVES SHOULD 2!May GrandFather keep lil sister safe..

ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
I hope Miranda's parents aren't paying for her to attend the Sacred Heart Catholic Academy for this outrageous handling of this incident. I was a teacher and could never understand some of the intolerance among other teachers towards their students or other students. Some people just simply don't belong in teaching careers. That she can speak her Native language is remarkable. Maybe speaking it when she should have been paying attention in class wasn't the best thing to do, on her part. But her teacher replying the way she did was inexcusable. The teacher is the one who needs suspended, not Miranda. This is a sad day for teachers everywhere in any school setting to see something like this happen. For social workers, which was my last career, the teacher and school has been abusive towards Miranda. Now the school is back-tracking, trying to make what's wrong right. The damage has already been done. I'm sorry for the attitude this Sacred Heart Catholic Academy has. It reminds me of what was done to Native American's for decades, which was, trying to assimilate the Native American into White culture and not caring about their culture or their Native language. This is a shameful day for that Academy. They have a lot of explaining to do to many people.

ppmickey's picture
Submitted by ppmickey on
Well said speakingarrow.

Submitted by rawblue on
That was just wrong what happen to this young lady. She should be able to speak any language she wants. The Teacher should be suspended,for good.

12smallracr's picture
Submitted by 12smallracr on
Teacher is mess up. Great grandparents taught the grandchildren to always speak their native language and never forget who they are. If we can't speak the native language, what's the point of speaking English, the white people tormented the native Americans long ago. The Native American language is the first on the North American plains. The teacher should be ashamed.

cynthiagaedydavidson's picture
Submitted by cynthiagaedydavidson on
This is crazy! That's like saying, 'If you don't speak English, go back to your own country.' Are we digressing that far? What's happening to this country? I'm proud to be an American but not proud of that kind of thinking. This is so sad that this kind of discrimination still exists.

vickeykennedy's picture
Submitted by vickeykennedy on
I think it's shameful that people discourage others from speaking their native language. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone had the freedom and right, at least in America, to speak their own language in public without fear of persecution from those that can not understand them and have no desire to do so? Some day it may be illegal to speak English in this country. If you have doubts then just remember that English is not the native language of North America.

thinkitthru's picture
Submitted by thinkitthru on
Wait a minute before you slam a teacher for something possibly taken out of context. First, was this class Math? Social Studies? Gym? Why is she teaching her native tongue to another student IN class? Why not at lunch or at break or in the halls? As an educator, I would like to remind everyone there is a time and place for socializing and a time when it is inappropriate in any language. She wasn't suspended for speaking a different dialect, she was suspended for her attitude. If she was asked not to speak in class and she responded like I have seen students her age respond, I have no doubt this is the real reason for suspension and not the phony excuse used to rile up the public.

lemurtide's picture
Submitted by lemurtide on
Now let's all hold on just a minute before we commence the witch hunt. I'm a teacher and I think stopping a twelve-year-old from talking to a friend about something completely off topic DURING CLASS TIME (let's not forget that part) is 100% appropriate. I tell my students that if they cannot wait until after class to talk to each other, they are free to discuss their urgent matters with the principal. Ask yourself: Do you really want to send the signal to junior high teachers that they can't or shouldn't intervene when your children are talking during their lessons? Disrupting the class? Distracting the other students? Showing disrespect to their teachers? Not learning whatever is being taught themselves? Do you really want school to be a place your kids go to spend the day talking to their friends about whatever crosses their mind as teachers look on cowed, afraid of being sued for insisting that their students pay attention, stay on topic and behave at least somewhat respectfully? I think we've done enough to undermine teachers in this country without now telling them that they are no longer allowed to explain to a 12 year old why it is rude to sit, talking to a friend in class, in another language--both ignoring what is being taught and making it impossible for the teacher to have any clue what is being discussed. And I do not think suspending a twelve-year-old from an extra-curricular activity for one day, for being disruptive during class signals a crazy, draconian throwback to colonialism.

lemurtide's picture
Submitted by lemurtide on
As a teacher, I wonder how often you allowed your students to talk during your lectures about something completely off topic...in another language. And said nothing. As a parent I wonder if cowing middle-school teachers into not teaching our children anything they don't feel like learning at that moment is really our objective. If we really want our teachers frightened to tell our sons and daughters to stop talking to their friends and pay attention to what is being taught. I'm a teacher. I tell students to stop talking about all manner of things all the time in all sorts of ways. I always felt this was an act of respect to my other students, those who stay focused and wish to learn what is being taught; an act of respect toward the material being taught; toward the relevance of education, and towards myself. But perhaps this is a call better made by a twelve-year-old. Well, anyway, I'm just not ready to string this woman up for attempting to make sure her students stayed focused, even if she could have been more "sensitive" about their talking during her lesson about something completely off topic.

mariopro's picture
Submitted by mariopro on
Shame! Even two oceans away from you, from Croatia, I see it's a shame indeed. Haven't this "proud" Americans forgot WWII CODE TALKERS?! You just have to google-up "Mario's Cyberspace Station: All you should know about Navajo Code Talkers", and I hope you would have more respect for Native Americans and their language. - Mario Profaca, independent journalist, Zagreb, Croatia

meathouse's picture
Submitted by meathouse on
As an educator, the news of this incident burdened my heart. As mentors and role models for our children, teachers are challenged to resolve issues in a sensible and loving manner. The response from the teacher as well as the administration was extreme, and inappropriate. When we fail to engage our children in a respectful dialog when situations arise in the classroom, the harm done can linger for a long time. The teacher may have made their "point" but was the overkill necessary? Makes me wonder who really had the "bad" attitude. Shame on you.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
This was handled very badly all around. The teacher should have made clear that interrupting a class by "talking during class" is not respectful. The emphasis should never have been what was being spoken, but when. There is a time and place for everything. Like by being respectful in turning off your cell phone during class, meetings, church, funerals, weddng, the movie. This student should have been reprimanded for interruption, not for using a different language.

Olivia Ramirez's picture
Olivia Ramirez
Submitted by Olivia Ramirez on
miranda shouldn't of been suspended because you should have the right to speak whatever language she wants if she wants to speak her native language then she do that but that teacher is just plain bullheaded she should be ashamed of herself if i was miranda i would of said this to my teacher : listen here lady i don't care if you don't like me speaking my native language or not but i am gonna speak it anyway so go on and suspend me i won't care because all you will ever be is plain old bulls***

Andrea DeBungie
Andrea DeBungie
Submitted by Andrea DeBungie on
I read some of the comments on this article. I wonder how many of the educators who commented are aware of the history of education for Native Americans. I get it that students shouldn't disrupt class with conversation that's off-topic. But making this young lady out to be defiant, loud, and disruptive because it's typical of kids her age seems wrong. Idk...I'm just disheartened that the teacher maybe didn't do more to understand the words she was saying... I'm a teacher of seven years, and shame on me if I ever teach students I don't make an effort to understand. And, another thing, I know very well that, as the teacher, I have the power to shape a situation to be positive or negative in the classroom.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
This is REALLY the problem, isn't it? (from the article): . . . , her teacher scolded her. Native News Network reported her saying “You are not to speak like that! How do I know you’re not saying something bad? How would you like it if I spoke in Polish and you didn’t understand?” ____________________________________________________________ This is the sentiment behind the Republican/Conservative to make English our "Official Language." White people don't like you calling them things behind their back. They don't know if that's what you're talking about, but half the time they've been assholes, so they naturally assume . . .

Kenneth Thomas
Kenneth Thomas
Submitted by Kenneth Thomas on
Back when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Our elders, even from other tribes, would talk about how they were treated in these boarding schools. Now that I'm 33 years old. When I seen this article. I had a few tears. One thing that always stuck in my mind through out the years, was my older elders of my people. They said, never forget your language, your way of life. If you let them take it from you, you will never get it back. Just like they took the land, animals, the trees, our families, and now our language. If we don't teach them to become better people, they will try to take all they can before they fall. Perhaps I'm speaking out of place a little, but at least I'm speaking up. That's the problem with our people of Native America. The fear is already being put into place. They planted the seeds of this into our grandparents. That seed has bloomed into what it is today, FEAR to speak out. FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real. It is also said that the younger generations are to help the elders to understand the changing times. This is 100% true. So please, to all you younger generations out there. If you know the language. Teach your parents, your people, other tribes. Don't be afraid to be looked at or scrutinized by it. It's our Great Grandfather Creator speaking through you. Every tribe in this land that reads this has all been taught the same stories, the history of what has happened, and still is. It's time from a change and the time is now, or we will lose everything. Aho

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on
The policies of colonialism, of invasions and occupations of other countries and subjugations of the Natives so international thieves and murderers could go in and steal resources and lands. Forced assimilation of our people leads to the bastardized version of the Stockholm Syndrome that has infected our leaders and people into silence and aquiesence, and turned our leaders into middle men in giving our remaining resources and lands away for a pittance, if not for free

Pat Simonik
Pat Simonik
Submitted by Pat Simonik on
I am proud of that young woman for using and teaching her native language to a classmate. Could that teacher who told her to stop, be a descendent of those who ran the catholic boarding schools where children were punished for using their own language?

rockymissouri's picture
Submitted by rockymissouri on
That teacher should be fired, ASAP and someone who respects Native American history, preferably a Native American teacher, brought in to replace her. That lovely girl did NOTHING wrong. She should be commended, and praised.

BuffaloDrum47's picture
Submitted by BuffaloDrum47 on
Perhaps it could be arranged with the school for someone to come to the school and teach the language to anyone who wants to learn. Maybe not enough to become fluent, but enough to understand basic courtesies like hello, good-by, thank you. The school and the People could turn this into a learning experience for everybody.

Gary Orfield
Gary Orfield
Submitted by Gary Orfield on
This is insensitive, ignorant, and discriminatory. Languages are a treasure and they carry so much of tradition and culture. Those who fight to preserve and use a language are heroes. From the Civil Rights Project at UCLA we send support.

Marianne Orendorff
Marianne Orendorff
Submitted by Marianne Orendorff on
To the teachers who are up in arms about this, I completely agree with you about chastising a student for speaking in class. But if the media is accurately reporting the teacher's response, it was completely inappropriate. The teacher was not addressing the disruption, she was addressing the language in which the disruption took place and her remark could be construed as racist. She may very well be telling the truth about the girl being disruptive and rude, but it doesn't change the fact that what she said was inappropriate. Also, while the articles do not say that the girl was NOT disrupting class, they also don't say that she WAS. You're telling me you don't occasionally give your students a free day? Or the opportunity to talk quietly after finishing an assignment? And that you don't sometimes overhear what your students are talking about in those moments? How do you know this wasn't the case? However, unless the teacher IS racist or has some dislike for this girl, I don't feel like she would lie about the girl having been disruptive and rude before and the girl did need to be punished in some way for those offenses.. But that doesn't change the fact that the manner in which the teacher chose to address the disruption was also rude and incorrect.

kiwicrusader's picture
Submitted by kiwicrusader on
I am dismayed at this story ... not surprised but dismayed. One's own language is a treasure, a taonga (NZ Maori language meaning treasure) . What also amazed me was the attitude of some responders claiming to be teachers - they say the school response was appropriate because the child was 'off task' . Goodness me .... did you read the article? It said “You are not to speak like that! How do I know you’re not saying something bad? How would you like it if I spoke in Polish and you didn't understand?” . This is not about being off task but CLEARLY about the language used! ..... and you are teachers? Do you teach students to read only part messages?. I hope this student and her family receive a full and humble apology from the school. The teacher also must be given the opportunity to acknowledge her error and apologise. She is human and this may have been totally out of character. Showing humility can be a valuable lesson for students also.