Image source: umich.edu/~ojibwe/lessons/semester-one/boarding-schools
Tom Torlino, student at the Carlisle Indian School, in 1882 when he arrived and three years later.

Leaving the Rez: Eyeryday, Modern-Day Assimilation (for Kreestal)

Gyasi Ross
3/24/14

We talk about how her grounding in her homelands and in her family will also mitigate the assimilating damage that university education will do to her psyche. I tell her, “Make no mistake—Richard Pratt’s mandate to “kill the Indian and save the man” assimilation policy is still fully in effect and university education is a large part of that assimilation.”

Once again: western education is assimilation.

I tell my niece Kreestal (and the other students who I interact with) that a little bit of strategic assimilation can be good. Learn the mechanisms, the systems. Come back. That’s positive.

To wit, when Native people get educated for the purposes of contributing BACK to our precious Native homelands and people, then education is good. Then assimilation is a necessary evil—“Go away, gain knowledge of how to help contribute and improve our communities. Come back. Strengthen the community.” Positive. Use that assimilation for good.

However, education can also be a negative thing to Native communities—it can be a tool to take away many of the talented people from our homelands. When Native people go away (“Make it away!”) from the rez for education, and then ACT like they really did escape—they don’t come back but instead just live in middle class splendor away from their homelands. That’s called a “brain drain.” During treaty negotiations, our ancestors included both “education” and “reservations” into the same treaties. That shows that the two concepts were related to our ancestors. “Education” and “reservation.” When we separate those concepts and take the education with no intent to reciprocate to our homelands, that’s not positive. That’s a Native person buying fully into the assimilation lie—those people effectively have saved the man (or woman) and killed the Indian.

Many times my niece (or any of the students whom I speak to) will ask me WHY we have an obligation to our homelands. “Why SHOULDN’T we just move away like all other Americans?”

Fair question. Still, I tell them that there are many reasons why our homes are different than ALL other people in this nation. First and foremost, our homelands literally carry the spirits of tens of thousands of our ancestors through genetic memory, blood and experience. WE are buried there. That blessed soil in our homelands is nourished with the literal DNA of our people and that fertile soil is UNIQUELY situated to take care of our own kids, our educational, nutritional and spiritual needs. THAT’S why our ancestors thought it was SO important that they reserved it for you—the land is holy and spiritual and deep and carries our literal and metaphorical DNA sequences in the soil.

If we ask the land earnestly and diligently, those spirits that are in the soil WILL answer. Sometimes we just don’t ask the right questions.

The second reason is less lofty, but important nonetheless. Many times, our Tribes pay a portion of our educational costs. Some tribes pay ALL of their fortunate tribal members’ higher education costs. That is NOT a birthright—that is good fortune. That is an investment. The ONLY way that tribe sees a return on that investment is when tribal members contribute back to the community.

Native students who are getting back acceptance letters right now: I’m proud of you. Your people are proud of you. You have an opportunity to do something amazing. Do it. We’ll be waiting for you. Your communities are special places, magical places. Those homelands are worthy and, yes, this is where you truly belong. There is a reason that your people were created and evolved in your homelands—it takes care of you. But assimilate for awhile—learn what you can learn.

Go experience the world, make friends, enjoy the outside world fully. 

But at the end of that, realize that those cities and non-Native places are not your homes. There’s a reason why your ancestors fought to keep these reservation lands separate. Come back.

Love you Kreestal. Congratulations. 

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Dad/Author/Attorney
New Book, How to Say I Love You in Indian—order today!!
www.cutbankcreekpress.com
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi

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arizona's picture
arizona
Submitted by arizona on
Reeally enjoy all your commentary and vinegar/honey insight. I was wondering, what do you think of Natives who left the 'rez' and chose to stay away and didn't come back? More and more Natives leave for a variety of reasons. Therefore, do you think the Almighty Superior beings in D.C. or wherever they gather stats, data, and infor. on trends pertaining to Natives, do you think Big Brother is watching and knows that as time goes by, Natives are leaving their homelands and not coming back? What is your take on this and do you believe you will live to see that demise of the Reservation? Thank you again for your columns.

ravenhawk's picture
ravenhawk
Submitted by ravenhawk on
I beg to differ on education equating into simulation - I chose what/where/when I educate myself and have resisted anything 'forced' onto me all my life. Whats the option then just being dumb Indian? Best conversation I ever had in my life was with a Cambodian who said "education" is the only thing White man has to offer that I like. we had soO much in common from culture to being resistant. Indians aren't assimilating today - we've evolving - I do know some Indians that chose to de-volve though. I've recently applied at several local Colleges ... too white for me I went running to Tribal College.

ravenhawk's picture
ravenhawk
Submitted by ravenhawk on
I beg to differ on education equating into simulation - I chose what/where/when I educate myself and have resisted anything 'forced' onto me all my life. Whats the option then just being dumb Indian? Best conversation I ever had in my life was with a Cambodian who said "education" is the only thing White man has to offer that I like. we had soO much in common from culture to being resistant. Indians aren't assimilating today - we've evolving - I do know some Indians that chose to de-volve though. I've recently applied at several local Colleges ... too white for me I went running to Tribal College.

Ryanbellerose's picture
Ryanbellerose
Submitted by Ryanbellerose on
This was an interesting read but I would say I disagree with a few things you say here. first I know a lot of native kids who go away to school, and when they come home to the rez to make changes they get stonewalled. so many reserves are miserable places to live, is it any wonder that when we get stonewalled, we do not want to live on moosemeat and macaroni just to get treated like pariahs? I do not ascribe to the misplaced belief that we should worship our jails, and thats what many reserves are. instead we should be talking about taking control of our education, adding cultural components and teaching our youth how to live in the modern world while remaining true to themselves.

wahskohon's picture
wahskohon
Submitted by wahskohon on
My parents chose not to return to the reservations they came from. For a long time I was ashamed. After, 5 colleges and zero assistance from any culture, I graduated and desired to return to the rez- as if not being from the Rez or living there meant I couldn't be Native. Soil calls to my soul and I visit regularly. But I decided that I would be a deep undercover Skin. My reason was that I would rather take my knowledge and experiences, which were listed, and infiltrate the public schools of America!! So now, I have been teaching American school kids about the Indigenous! I am fighting the battle of ignorance by teaching "their" kids. I am well liked by all cultures, but I do my best to walk proud as an Indigenous man. I have been asked by my district to lead minority issues and now my peers and other schools are changing. Let's see... that's 40 teachers at my school... and 6 schools... plus all the kids I know... I'm a Red virus extinguishing their ignorance and inflaming their children to love the Mother Earth and her children. This entire continent was full of people of the soil (Indigenous). Assimilation means that the enemy screwed up by not killing us all - now we have permeated throughout them, as we planned, and they are realizing it's too late to murder us outright. Their children know too many wonderful humans - that are real Natives. We've infiltrated so well that the American government had to determine how infected they are... I hear nearly all Americans claim the have and Indian relative. NOW - we awaken their spirits!
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