We, the First Peoples, are the roots of this land. As the original free and independent nations of Turtle Island, we honour our sacred traditions, which were given to us by our Great Creator. We recognize that our first step must be to show our appreciation and gratitude towards Meymeynosh—the Earth herself. Being the roots of this land comes with the responsibility of leadership in educating our children.
When we truly reflect on the present education system as it is delivered to the youth, we must return to the original intent of education itself—and see that we have failed our children in providing the best education possible.
We pride ourselves in that we live in an advanced society because of our education system, yet we have not been able to find more peaceful resolutions to our differences, and we continue to challenge nature’s authority.
In the English dictionary, education is defined as “to develop [a child] mentally, morally or aesthetically, especially by instruction.”
The education system has failed First Nations people because it does not tell the truth of the history of our people. It does not share the stories of the roots of the original people of this land who have a knowledge and understanding, particularly in how to have a respectful relationship with Meymeynosh herself.
This was to be a weekend of data entry for my income taxes. TurboTax wants to triple what they charge to file Schedules C and D, and I have to either pay up or enter a lot of stuff for myself the first year that any of the programs will do for you in subsequent years. I got interrupted when a big envelope showed up at my door.
From the return address, I quickly figured out what was inside and was ripping it open like my five-year-old twin grandkids did their birthday presents last week: Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2012.
I opened the booklet inside to distribution by “race and ethnicity” and started reading.
African-Americans have increased their Ph.D.s 87 percent in the past 20 years, which sounds great until you see they are now getting 6.3 percent of the degrees awarded, 2,079, while representing 13.1 percent of the US population.
Hispanics have doubled their numbers of Ph.D.s in the past 20 years, which sounds all right until you see they are now getting 6.5 percent of the degrees awarded, 2,141, while representing 16.9 percent of the U.S. population.
Then came the sentence in the report that told me what I didn’t want to hear: “The number of American Indian or Alaska Native doctorate recipients fell to its lowest point of the past 20 years.” In numbers, that’s 102 doctorates or well under one-half of one percent awarded to a group representing (allegedly) 1.2 percent of the population.
I confess this hurt more back when I was in the business of producing Ph.D.s, because it felt like a personal failure to look under every rock for potential Indian candidates. But it still hurts enough that I take on the job of convincing others that this is bad news to hear that while other minorities are making too little progress, we are making none.
The whole idea of “progress” is problematic to public opinion in great chunks of Indian country. You can’t entertain “progress” without value judgments about where you are right now and where you are going and those value judgments, the argument goes, contain a profound disrespect for “tradition” and are a symptom of “assimilation,” the death of a culture. Others of us think that assimilation is the life of a culture because it’s not a one-way street.
When two cultures interact, neither remains the same. To think that one must totally disappear is to apprehend the disappearing one as profoundly inferior. The Indian fighters, of course, seldom verbalize our inferiority as a reason for our academic underperformance. They let the numbers speak for themselves.
If we address the dismal numbers, we either blame the racists or we point to the numbers with pride, as evidence of successful resistance to the colonial enterprise that challenges us to assimilate or die.
Many of my white students were greatly concerned with this thing called “globalization,” which means to them that their competition is not their neighbors but other kids halfway around the world that are multilingual, just as smart, and way hungrier.
Indians, of course, shall never go hungry, and the commods shall arrive as long as the rivers shall run. Would it be tacky to point out that the rivers are drying up, and the solutions to that problem are going to require advanced education in many fields, not the least of which is political science?
Right now, there’s a woman in my tribe coming out of an environmental science Ph.D. program. She serves on the tribal council and is running for chief. I’m not sure yet how I feel about that, but I am sure what the knowledge represented by that Ph.D. means. It means that she’ll be better fixed to do a good job if she wins and she’ll have plenty of opportunities to do important things for the tribe if she loses.
In my field, sometimes people will get snarky with a college student in the family, asking, “Does the world really need another lawyer?” Actually, Indian communities are hardly over lawyered, but that’s not the point. That degree is evidence that you know a lot of stuff that is going to come in handy for you and yours if you never set foot in a courthouse.
Much ado is made of our divisions and differences, and this is so successful because the narrative of our sameness is foundational to colonial policies.
College education can be the difference between meandering into the world of work or roaring into a career to make a difference for family and the Native community.
Dear President Stephen D. Nadauld, Dixie State University:
I love teaching. I love how students are open to new information and give critical thought about contemporary social issues. Mostly, I teach about social injustices that accompany the experience of being racialized (labeled) as not-white.
A new poll released yesterday by Public Policy Polling finds that Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal is the least popular Republican governor in the country, and second most unpopular governor in the U.S. overall.
Unless you're an anthropologist, you've probably never heard of Professor George Stocking, Jr., so you also wouldn't have noticed his obituary in The New Yor
It’s been a long… long time a coming… but I know….change going come. On June 3, I walked into the Department of the Interior along with one of the chiefs from the Virginia tribes.
Congratulations graduates, you have made it! High school graduation is a breaking away of adolescence and entering into the adult phase of life. Your training in the past 18 years will set the stage for your college experience.
Every American Indian alive today has been affected by the policy of assimilation implemented by the United States government not that long ago.
“There is no better place for a vibrant Indigenous and Cherokee Studies program than NSU, which serves as a monument to the intellectual history of the Cherokee Nation.” — Wilma P. Mankiller, “Memo to Dr. Don Betz,” January 19, 2010.
Over the weekend the Republican line on the sequester was honed to a simple idea: It’s only a couple of pennies, two-and-one-half cents out of every dollar. No big deal, right?
Lots of things have followed me into my second retirement. Some, like continuing work with Indian graduate students, are a source of delight. Others less so. I am reminded that I failed to change the world.