Congratulations to all of our high school, community college, university and other graduates of higher learning. You have achieved a significant milestone but remember that your journey is one of life long learning. So..Learn today like you are going to live forever.
Take the best of the White Man`s road, pick it up and take it with you. That which is bad, leave it alone, cast it aside. Take the best of the Indian Ways – always keep them. They have been proven for thousands of years. Do not let them die! ……..Chief Sitting Bull, Hunkpapa Teton-Sioux
Some of you will return to your communities and be employed there in some capacity and eventually become community leaders. Many of you will be employed by Government and private sector companies. Some of you will enter into the world of consulting for companies wanting to do business with First Nations, Metis or Inuit communities. Some of you may start your own businesses. Regardless of where you choose to work, never forget who you are and your roots as an Indigenous Person.
You are the future. The responsibilities of nurturing and protecting future generations and acting as Stewards for Mother Earth is in your hands. There is much to be done as little has been achieved since these words echoed by the late Chief Dan George in his famous 1967 Speech (A Lament for Confederation), “Oh God! Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success-his education, his skills- and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society”.
You can use your on- going accumulated knowledge, education and expertise to help maintain a way of life in the spirit of our ancestors. Green energy, greater respect and care for our animal and plant life, educating our non- Aboriginal brothers and sisters about our history and culture, improving the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples everywhere and establishing examples for Governance in our communities. The democratic pattern of leadership practiced by our ancestors reflects the fact of living in small bands where decisions were made through discussion with wide participation. In fact, early European-American leaders like Washington and Franklin acknowledged that by stating that “we learned democracy here. We did not bring it”. We must return to this form of decisión-making. There is much to be done in the political arena as well and on the journey toward re-conciliation. A Supreme Court Justice, Chief Justice Lamer, stated in his 1996 decision ( Vander Peet) , “That the doctrine of Aboriginal rights exist, and is recognized and affirmed by S.35(1) of the Constitution Act of 1982 because of one single fact, when Europeans arrived in N. America Aboriginal people were already here living in communities on the land and participating in distinctive cultures. It is this fact and this fact alone which separates Aboriginal peoples from all other minority groups in Canadian society”. There is much to do as you embrace some of these challenges and assume the leadership role and responsibilities as an Indigenous Person.
Don`t be a Convenient Indian. The late Metis author Howard Adams commented in his book (A Tortured People: The Politics of Colonization) that “Through government sponsored programs over the last twenty years the number of Aboriginal professionals has increased extensively…Driven by the need to establish social status, this group strives to achieve a mastery of the colonizer’s cultural practices and language, while appearing authentically Aboriginal”. This is perhaps a cynical outlook but I admit that there are some who can be so labeled. Gyasi Ross in the article below states that “This educational system was meant to take beautiful, free and liberated young Natives and spit them out to be soulless Americans, mere raw material to be manufactured and consumed. At that point, you were simply meant to enter into the work force and forget who you are and from whence you came”. Don`t be a Convenient Indian and follow Gyasi Ross`s advice “that you not only step away from what was intended to destroy but to actually step toward something that has always sustained our people”.
A good start is to return to your roots and learn all there is to learn about your culture. As Diane King states in her article below, ‘90 percent of what 90 percent of the people know about Indians they learned from the movies’ (including Indians) but “90 percent of what 90 percent of the people know about Indians should come from Indians.” You have a role to play!
May 4, 2017•
“Imperialism and colonialism are not something that happened decades ago or generations ago, but they are still happening now…”
John Mohawk, Seneca
“Every child born into the world should be looked upon by society as so much raw material to be manufactured. Its quality is to be tested. It is the business of society, as an intelligent economist, to make the best of it.”
Lester Frank Ward
“The great purpose which the Government has in view in providing an ample system of common school education for all Indian youth of school age is the preparation of them for American citizenship. The Indians are destined to become absorbed into the national life, not as Indians, but as Americans.”
Thomas J. Morgan, Commissioner of Indian Affairs
“Inculcation of Patriotism in Indian Schools”
Dear Native students and graduates,
You are graduating. Congratulations.
That is a huge deal. Historic. You beat the odds. Your family and community should be very proud of you and you should be very proud of yourself as well. For what it matters, I’m very proud of you. Native students have the lowest graduation rates from high school in the nation. Native students also have the highest dropout rates from college in the nation. There are a myriad of reasons, heartbreaking stories and culprits why Native students have the lowest graduation rates and the highest dropout rates in the nation—those reasons, stories and culprits are all very, very real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The fact that you made it through school despite those very real things is nothing short of amazing.
Yet, you persisted dear graduates. You somehow survived this system that was intended to devour your soul.
This educational system was meant to take beautiful, free and liberated young Natives and spit them out to be soulless Americans, mere raw material to be manufactured and consumed. At that point, you were simply meant to enter into the work force and forget who you are and from whence you came. Those aren’t my words—that is what the architects of this system said the intent was. That has always been the aim of educating Native people—to kill the Indian and save the person, because the values of Native people are oftentimes in direct opposition to simply being a wasteful American. This system was meant to break you, like a wild animal, and turn you into a consumer.
Some will tell you that the educational system has changed and that is not the intent any longer. Those folks are wrong. Those people who say that are naïve at best; today, Native students (and black students) get assigned to special education classes at astronomically high rates—far higher than other ethnicities. Those people who say that the educational system is no longer like that are liars at worst; today, Native students (and black students) receive discipline—suspension and expulsions—at astronomically high rates—far higher than other ethnicities.
The intent has not changed.
It is no surprise that Native students and black students are joined in these statistics, since as Richard Henry Pratt said, “If millions of black savages can become so transformed and assimilated, and if, annually, hundreds of thousands of emigrants from all lands can also become Anglicized, Americanized, assimilated and absorbed through association, there is but one plain duty resting upon us with regard to the Indians, and that is to relieve them of their savagery and other alien qualities by the same methods used to relieve the others.” As John Mohawk pointed out, imperialism and colonialism are still happening now and their major instruments are schools.
Yet you made it graduates. You survived an evil system that was literally designed to destroy our communities.
When I say “evil,” please understand that I’m not talking about “I disagree with their perspective.” No, I’m talking “steal your children” evil; “you will never, ever see your Native children again” evil; “cut your children’s hair off” evil; “put them in special ed to get them classified as less intelligent” evil; “hundreds of unmarked graves for the children who died at boarding school” evil.
That is the legacy of the US educational system with Native children. It’s really that bad.
Now comes the unlearning time. If I could give one piece of advice to students who have just graduated, it is this: take the time to consciously protect who you have always been. Your diploma is not who you have always been. Your degree is not who you have always been. Your job, if you are now entering the job market, is not who you have always been. The diplomas, degrees and jobs are, hopefully, simply tools to help maintain who we have always been in this modern era.
But there is a danger is that we start to believe that the diplomas, degrees and jobs are the goals themselves. We might begin to believe that those things make us smarter, more worthwhile, and more capable than our non-educated family and community. We might begin to think that we are somehow different than our community.
That is dangerous.
That is why we must have a time for unlearning some of the invisible lessons from western schooling. It might only be a week, two weeks, a month, but if I were to give some advice it would be to forget your amazing accomplishment for some period of time. I would say to also forget your cell phone and forget the Socratic discipline of questioning everything. You are brilliant—there is no question about that. You were always worthwhile. You were always capable. Worthwhileness and capableness were genetic traits passed down from people who survived some of the worst hardships known to humankind. You survived a system that was intended to destroy you. But now I would advise, if I were to advise, that you not onlystep away from what was intended to destroy but to actually step toward something that has always sustained our people.
Pow-wow season and summer ceremony seasons are coming up. Perfect opportunity to go talk with some elders for a few days. Camp. Talk with them as long as you can into the night. Wake up and talk to them some more. Go to a sweat. Unplug for a few days. Unplug for a few weeks if you can. If they smoke and you do not, sit in their smoke and listen. If they speak their language and you do not, listen anyway. Hear the rhythm. Learn the brilliance of their communication—how they made it through an incredibly violent world, a world intended to destroy them.
And yet they made it through. Which, of course, allowed us to make it through. You owe that time to them.
College, grad school and the job market will all be there. Those things are not going anyplace. You are going to do amazing there. But the best that we can do against imperialism and colonialism AND also the best thing for our mental and spiritual health is this: take some time to remember who you have always been. Send me pictures. Let me know how your graduation went.
‘90 percent of what 90 percent of the people know about Indians they learned from the movies’ (including Indians)
American history books begin with a man named Columbus claiming that he had discovered a new world and that it now belonged to the Queen. There is never any mention of what he did to the people of Cuba. At the same time as our World History books teach of the Egyptian Civilization, there is little mention of the North American Mound Builders of the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys or the Anasazi of the Southwest. Little is taught about the large cities with apartment complexes and the extensive trade routes of the ancient people.
In the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Homestead Act and the Louisiana Purchase, what is said about the theft of land from the Cherokee that had assimilated to becoming landowners in South Carolina and Georgia only to have their land seized, because they could not own land? Never is there a disparaging word about a president that forced hundreds of men, women and children to walk to Oklahoma, which we now refer to as the “Trail of Tears.” What source do I read that tells me how Lincoln preserved the union, but sanctioned the largest mass execution of 38 Dakota people in Mankato Minnesota? Or the carnival like atmosphere at the hanging, when the 38 trapdoors were simultaneously sprung.
Where in the history books does it tell about the Massacre at Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers, Wound Knee and the numerous more murders of the people that only we, Indian people, have the history of or know about? Tell me where I find the history of the boarding schools, the number of deaths, the ages of the children or the miles they were taken from their moms and dads. Where do I find the names on the unmarked graves at Pipestone government boarding school in southern Minnesota? Not to mention the theft of the language, religion and culture. What of the sterilizations, rapes and abuse our children suffered in those boarding schools. When does Hollywood tell our story of “The Rabbit Proof Fence?”
As the railroads cut their way across Indian country, we lost our land, our names, our religion, our language, our culture, our identity and our dignity. Who tells the story of the Dann sisters of Nevada, whose relatives were the Western Shoshone. How the Shoshone in 1863 made the peace treaty, the Treaty of Ruby Valley with United States government, allowing U.S. citizen’s safe passage through their territory and permit the mining for gold on their land. What history book tells the heartbreaking story of how the Dann sisters continue to fight for their right to occupy that land of the Western Shoshone?
How many of our young men went off to defend the country in WWI, WWII and the Korean Conflict? Defend a country that did not make them citizens until 1928 or allow them to have an alcoholic drink legally until 1953. Who can tell us why the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, Public Law No. 95-341, had to be passed August 11, 1978, because until that time we were denied the first amendment right of freedom of religion. Where do we find these truths?
You will not find these truths in the National Museum of the American Indian in the Washington D.C. Smithsonian building. What you will find in the National Museum of the American Indian is glitzy dressed up wax figurines. Each tribe represented is dressed in ceremonial regalia. There is a large collection of Indian artifacts; much of which came into the hands of Euro-Americans by desecrating ancient burial mounds. Of the approximately 1,300 mounds that were in Minnesota alone, only about five still exist and are now protected.
Just down the Mall from the National Museum of the American Indian you will find the Jewish Holocaust Museum. The truth of the extermination and genocide is awesomely awfully done. You leave the museum knowing many of the truths and with a gut wrenching, heart aching realization of the atrocities suffered by the Jews.
When you leave the National Museum of the American Indian you know nothing of the extermination or genocide of the American Indian people. You know nothing of the millions that died, of entire tribes wiped out, of small pock infested blankets handed out, of sweetened coffee laced with alcohol, of children taken from their parents to be put in boarding schools or foster care as farm labor in Nebraska, Iowa or North Dakota. When you leave the National Museum of the American Indian you know little more than you did when you went in and you know little to nothing about Indians.
As an American Indian child I learned about Columbus. I watched John Wayne movies and played cowboys and Indians. I don’t have to tell you who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. The only time my grandmother uttered a word in Ojibwa was when ousting the numerous grandchildren from the house or angrily muttering something under her breath.
I went to public school and learned about the European invaders. I learned about how smart and wise and good they were. I learned that George Washington never told a lie. He was asked by his father who cut down the cherry tree and he said “I cannot lie; it was I who cut down the cherry tree.” I did not learn that Washington had a very large plantation in Virginia and that he owned 200 men, women and children, that they were his property like cattle.
I graduated from high school in 1967, which was the height of the Vietnam Conflict. I am lucky it was, because it was a time of revolution and change. The Black Panthers were fighting for the rights and equality of Black People. Women were burning their bras and fighting for the rights and equality of women. Then in 1969 in Minneapolis, Minnesota was the rise of the American Indian Movement (AIM).
That was the beginning of a time of discovery. The American Indian Movement started looking at the injustices to American Indians and all the broken treaties. AIM started challenging some of the policies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The BIA was originally housed under the Department of War because we were considered sovereign nations, but by 1969 it was housed in the Department of the Interior. Where it is now housed because that is where the Bureau of Land Management is and if you want to steal more Indian Land, what better place to put it? We would jokingly say, “of course they would house it there, because that is where Department of Wildlife is housed and we are considered wildlife.” Either way, we and our lands are being misused and mismanaged.
For the past 40 plus years American Indians have been fighting for their identity. We have said “no more assimilation.” We have gone after the United States government, our trustee, for monies that belong to us for the use of the land. We have gotten back our hunting, fishing and harvesting rights guaranteed by treaty. Land rights, water rights, health rights, educational rights are just a few of the rights for which we continue to fight.
As an educator my concern has always been schools. How should school change so that our children can be educated and not assimilated. This is a challenge because there is so much fear of assimilation. The question is “is there anything good about a white man’s education?” My answer is yes, if we can take from it that what we may need, that what is truth, that what is good and mix it with the Indian teachings, values, spirituality and language it may serve our children well. I met some Indian doctors trained in western medicine that took the good from that and mixed it with the ancient healings and they were the best. I believe we should be doing much more of this.
If we do not learn and teach we will not be able to protect Mother Earth. Our job is to protect the Mother. We have a connection to this earth that the Euro-Americans, African Americans and Asian-Americans do not have. Our languages and spirituality are an important part to that connection. It is our obligation to help teach these people of many colors the values of respect, humility, sharing, truth and honesty. Our duty is clear.
Many schools are struggling to close the gap in test scores of Indian children verse Euro-American children. Many schools would like to better their successful graduation of Indian children. Many schools are asking, “what can we do?”
I believe, as do many, that a child’s identity is important for learning. When our children have been so stripped of their identity, it is important to give that identity back. We as Indian people need to demand that our language, be it Ojibwa or Dinah, be part of the school curriculum. History classes should include the history and contributions of Indian people, as part of the information taught to all the students. When teaching the history of the state, it must include the Indian history of that state and the United States. Science should include Indian contributions to astronomy, medicine and agriculture. Home Economics should teach that 92 percent of the world’s food today came from the pre-Columbus Americas. English class should emphasize the progress in Indian writing in the past 50 years, and included in their required reading material writers such as Joseph Bruchac, Louise Erdrich, Ella Cara Deloria, Mary Crow Dog, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Sherman Alexie just to mention a few.
If our children live in economic suppressed communities, there needs to be opportunities for them to see other communities. We need to be looking for ways for them to realize their potential by making available summer culture and language based camps, summer workshops on food production, wild rice and maple syrup harvesting, nationwide trips to other Indian communities (maybe like a student exchange program), nationwide pow wows or ceremonies.
We need to re-teach our values, education being one of them. We need to help our children visit college campuses and help them to build a network at college that will help them be successful. Since I have been taking my students to colleges over the past five years, we have doubled the number of Indian children that are entering college and being successful. We need to encourage our schools to have a search committee to find Indian teachers to fill open positions in the core subjects, math, science, history and English. We need role models in our schools as teachers and administrators. We need to bring in to all school lyceums Indian professionals, artist and writers. We need to bring in community members especially elders, to do talking circles. We need to bring in community people to share their life experience and to share their skills, weaving, basketry, pottery, beading, etc.
We must become the educators. Dispelling the myths and stereotypes that Hollywood has perpetrated will not be an easy job. We need to give our children back their identity so they don’t have to identify with other cultural groups or gangs.
In conclusion “90 percent of what 90 percent of the people know about Indians should come from Indians.”
Diana Lee King is Mississippi Band (removal to White Earth reservation with the treaty of 1867) Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Waubun (Ojibwa for sunrise), Minnesota
On Canada’s 100th birthday, Chief Dan George silenced a crowd of 32,000 with his ‘Lament for Confederation’ at Empire Stadium.
Lament for Confederation
How long have I known you, Oh Canada? A hundred years? Yes, a hundred years. And many, many seelanum more. And today, when you celebrate your hundred years, Oh Canada, I am sad for all the Indian people throughout the land.
For I have known you when your forests were mine; when they gave me my meat and my clothing. I have known you in your streams and rivers where your fish flashed and danced in the sun, where the waters said ‘come, come and eat of my abundance.’ I have known you in the freedom of the winds. And my spirit, like the winds, once roamed your good lands.
But in the long hundred years since the white man came, I have seen my freedom disappear like the salmon going mysteriously out to sea. The white man’s strange customs, which I could not understand, pressed down upon me until I could no longer breathe.
When I fought to protect my land and my home, I was called a savage. When I neither understood nor welcomed his way of life, I was called lazy. When I tried to rule my people, I was stripped of my authority.
My nation was ignored in your history textbooks – they were little more important in the history of Canada than the buffalo that ranged the plains. I was ridiculed in your plays and motion pictures, and when I drank your fire-water, I got drunk – very, very drunk. And I forgot.
Oh Canada, how can I celebrate with you this Centenary, this hundred years? Shall I thank you for the reserves that are left to me of my beautiful forests? For the canned fish of my rivers? For the loss of my pride and authority, even among my own people? For the lack of my will to fight back? No! I must forget what’s past and gone.
Oh God in heaven! Give me back the courage of the olden chiefs. Let me wrestle with my surroundings. Let me again, as in the days of old, dominate my environment. Let me humbly accept this new culture and through it rise up and go on.
Oh God! Like the thunderbird of old I shall rise again out of the sea; I shall grab the instruments of the white man’s success-his education, his skills- and with these new tools I shall build my race into the proudest segment of your society.
Before I follow the great chiefs who have gone before us, Oh Canada, I shall see these things come to pass. I shall see our young braves and our chiefs sitting in the houses of law and government, ruling and being ruled by the knowledge and freedoms of our great land.
So shall we shatter the barriers of our isolation. So shall the next hundred years be the greatest in the proud history of our tribes and nations.
Dan George — chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a Coast Salish band in North Vancouver – was also an author, poet and an Academy Award nominated actor. But above all, he was an activist and an influential speaker on the rights of native peoples of North America. Some of this activism may have stemmed from the fact that, at the age of five, George was placed in a residential school where his First Nations language and culture were prohibited. His “Lament for Confederation” — a scathing indictment of the appropriation of native territory by white colonists — was his most famous speech.