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