Teaching My Native Child: An Open Letter to My Children's Educators

Martie Simmons

It is that time of the year again, one every Native parent dreads. It is the season of fables, of rewritten history, of colored feathers bought in bulk from a craft store, of paper bag clothing, of teepees, and your versions of pow wows. You call this Thanksgiving; we call this the National Day of Mourning.

I have spent almost five years instilling, in my children, the pride of their people and their family. We struggle each day to relearn words and phrases of an almost dying language. This is our reality, a reality that my father was scared to teach me. He feared that we would not assimilate properly into white society. He feared we would be backwards in school, that they would beat us -as they did him- if we spoke our given language. Today though, I swell with pride as I hear my children use the phrases we are learning together, in the proper context. They are learning the culture of their people, what their ancestors should have been able to teach them without fear of retribution. I trust that you will make every attempt to understand this, that you will continue to instill values in my children, that you will unlock the wonders of the world, pique their curiosity, spark their imaginations, and give them a never-ending hunger for knowledge. I do not have the means to home school them (if I could I would) therefore, I am entrusting that you will give my children a proper education.

I hope that I will be able to get a head of this at the start of the school year that we could have a conversation where we can discuss how my children are to be taught. If that is not a possibility, then I will certainly remind you every year that my children will not be participating in your lies. With all the knowledge that is readily available today, I cannot ignore your dereliction of duty in failing to teach my children the truth. I will have to spend countless hours and years combating the misinformation you are about to impart on them. They will not be participating in your construction paper and feather head bands.  However inconsequential it may be to you. They were not given those feathers by their male relatives in a sacred ceremony while their female relatives watched with pride. They are taught that feathers are sacred.  They will not be sitting in front of your make shift teepee; our people did not live in teepees but in wigwams. They will not be singing your pretend “Indian” songs on fake drums, as their songs were given to us by the creator on a sacred drum, and handed down generation by generation. They will not be creating paper bag clothing, as our regalia is created by relatives and prayed over with love and each stitch has a meaning much more profound than materials that you repurpose for trash. I do not expect you to teach my young children of the atrocities that have happened to their people while they are still so young; but I do not want them to be told lies born of revisionist history.

My children are at a fragile age. Their elementary years are the building blocks of who they will be as adults; please do not impede on that. They do not deserve to be the token Native of your classroom; their Native “perspective” should not be the tool you use to educate their peers. As an educator, that is your responsibility to ALL the students in the classroom.  They should not carry the responsibility of debating who was really here first in America, as I had to do every year of my elementary education. We know. History knows. DNA evidence shows who was truly here in America first. Do not put that burden on my children. I can’t be the only parent in America that is tired of seeing our history white washed and our children’s heads filled with lies. Yes, we have a terrible past but we are supposed to learn from this, not downplay and disregard. Stand on the REAL side of history, and be the authority figure on the truth.

This I beg of you.

Martie Simmons is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, a combat veteran, a certified HR Professional, has her Bachelors in Business Administration, and is a mother of two. She has a passion for writing, and hopes of attending law school, in the future, to continue being a champion of change for the native communities. She currently resides in El Paso, Texas.

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