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Urban Reflection 3 – Indian education in public schools

In October I attended the National Indian Education Convention in Oklahoma City. It is a place of rich Native cultures and beautiful landscapes. It is so flat in Oklahoma City you cannot see the horizon and the winds sweep you off your feet as they rush across the plains looking to knock over whatever lies in their path.  There were places in the downtown area where the wind hit you for a few steps then slowed down. The Native people  there are a mix of those who have been in this place since the beginning of time and those who came here as a result of forced removal from the lands of their creation.  They all have made a place for themselves.

They have learned to live together and we witness the strength of their work in the faces of their elders and the hopefulness of the young.  I picked the convention as my urban theme this time because I noticed that the voices of our advocates for our urban children and youth are finally becoming more prominent.  There is a greater emphasis through the NIEA Urban Indian Education sub-committee and in the content of workshops on how we can better serve the diverse Native population in our public schools.  This leads to more focus also on mainstream colleges and how they may be serving Native student populations.

Reservation, rural and urban Indians must work together to ensure the best education for our children, our youth and our college students.  I believe that public schools through local, state and federal support have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that our children have adequate resources and support to get a quality education that includes support for cultural education and to meet any special economic or social concerns.  Tribes have the duty and the legal right to insist upon this education and should not have to pay for it.

We are each uniquely identifiable as a people because of our specific tribal languages, our connection to a place that we call our homelands, our social, economic and governance systems and our relationship with creation.  It is very important as we focus on our children who are in public schools that we help them make the connection to their homelands and to the traditional knowledge that is their identity.  It takes work and it take cooperation because the diversity of most public school settings especially in urban centers creates a high risk for pan-Indian practices to prevail over the effort it takes to help each child find out more about their own people.  In many cases, this is made more complicated by the inter-tribal identity of our families.

But we can do it, my own children and grandchildren are mostly living in the cities in pursuit of employment so as a family we have to make a special effort to tell stories, practice our traditional ways and touch base with our relatives and our home.  They are inter-tribal being Sicangu Lakota as well as Shoshone-Paiute.  Because my children were raised in Rosebud they are mostly Lakota in their understanding of the world but they know they have a rich Native heritage in all of their tribal ancestry.

Generally, public schools won’t give our children their identity, but their family, community and their life education will.  We can ask of the schools to represent our identities appropriately and with respect, to give our children access to resources for success, and to ensure equity in their educational experience.  Parents and tribes have a right to inform the allocation of resources and to insist that cultural education be as as much a priority as academic support.  Cultural studies, curriculum, teaching strategies, extracurricular and co-curricular activities can all be used to support tribal children and youth.  As tribal people we must reach out to our families no matter where they are at, using the tools we have access to in the form of new media, to pass on our knowledge.

Reflection 2 – Urban Indian Living

Over the years I had often heard that our relatives who went to live in the cities because of relocation, education or to join other family members, kept alive the traditions and ceremonies of our people because they are so important to their identity and to their connection to their homelands. While I know that there are many Native children who have lived in urban areas for their entire lives and that we need to do whatever we can to give them access to cultural knowledge, I see that many families go out of their way to keep the connection of identity and spirit in place.

We went to the Tall Bull Memorial pow-wow and we could have been in one of the communities on the Rosebud for a traditional pow-wow. The same ceremonial and social activities occurred – specials, recognitions, and social dances. Although I don’t know all of the people there yet, it was clear that they were accustomed to the rhythm and flow of how the celebration went, the singers had strong voices and the dancers were beautiful. All the people in the arena were welcome. There were not hundreds of people there just like the difference between a celebration at Ring Thunder or Swift Bear and Rosebud Fair. It is in a beautiful location in Daniels Park and we appreciated seeing friends and relatives there. We know that celebrations and ceremonies at this location are in a special place in the Rockies.

Living in an urban setting reminded me of how national or global the US economy is – we have to search out stores that are locally or regionally owned because many stores are part of extremely large chains and have lost their connection to small businesses that are so important to our local economies. I am not against large businesses because they provide affordable goods for all people including myself. I just wish for more small business and family suppliers of these businesses to have access. I am also concerned about the loss of subsistence and sustainable lifestyles, not just for Native communities but also for non-Native peoples as well. It is interesting to me for example that I called Fred Meyer, which I always assumed was a regional store, for my prescriptions and found out that King Sooper and at least a dozen store brands across the country, are all part of the same corporation. Even new stores that we found like Sprouts (which is an affordable organic/healthy food store) is part of a bigger chain including other similar stores.

When you are on the Rez, you can run into friends, go over to their houses, go to sweat or some event together, when you live in the city, you have to make dates. Everyone leads busy lives, working and ensuring family and friendships among those they already have relationships with. It takes time to find your place.

First days at AICF – being present and remembering

This was my first week at the American Indian College Fund and I want to celebrate being in this really wonderful place in my life. Alex and I like living in this area – we are fascinated by the Rocky Mountains – they really are rocky and filled with all kinds of interesting trees and plants. Their roads are winding and you will come up on lovely streams and open grassy areas. I have been considering taking up fly-fishing just svan an stand on rocks in water. Last week we went for a drive up the mountains because we followed our GPS, which we have discovered has its own sense of what is the appropriate direction to go. We were a little intimidated but ended up in Gilpin, which is where my assistant, Carrie, lives so that was an unexpected treat – now I know what she has to do to get to work. The areas we can walk in are very nice open spaces – the park near me is natural grasslands with ponds and great views of both the sunrise and the mountains.
Transitioning from an academic environment into a development organization certainly has an impact on the way we “calendar” ourselves. We are not preparing for the start of the fall quarter although Alex has lots of requests for student scholarship letters. I am not doing any faculty pre-service activities or getting updates on course schedules. I can tell that I am going to have to get to the tribal colleges regularly in order to get my personal fix of student enthusiasm. I figure I should become a real Facebook junkie of TCU students so I can keep my stories of students and their successes and challenges alive and fresh for myself.
I realized this week just how diverse the Fund is – with everything from direct mail to the development of major gifts. Recently the Fund transitioned to a regional development model with development officers focused on raising funds from individuals, corporations and foundations in a geographic area. That will be challenging but allows our staff to develop closer personal working relationships with supporters and potential supporters of tribal college students and the TCUs themselves. It will encourage closer relations with the TCUs in the regions being served by Fund staff to ensure collaborative fundraising.
Being here has caused me to reminisce about my early days at Sinte Gleska University. When I went to work at SGU as a faculty member in the business department in 1981, SGU was still a very young institution and many of the founders of the tribal college movement were still living. When I think back to those early days, I remember being both happy that I had a good job and very naïve about what it meant to have a tribal college on my home reservation. I didn’t realize that the tribal colleges were such unique institutions. I didn’t know that without tribal colleges many of our people would never have been able to go to college. I learned this by observing my relatives and friends as they took classes and when they walked across the stage at graduation. I came to understand this by listening to the founders, Stanley Red Bird, Isadore White Hat, Bill Menard and so many others. I paid attention to the words and actions of Lionel Bordeaux and other tribal college presidents, board members, and educational leaders. All of them taught me that a tribal college is a special place where remarkable education takes place, where traditional knowledge is the foundation of all learning and where Indians can go to school together.
So I am happy to be here at the Fund, I get to support the amazing students at all the tribal colleges and I get to help all of our TCUs be stronger and more viable – with the team at the Fund and with the support of all the TCUs and the Fund’s Board and many friends, tribal students will continue to have access to higher education and our communities will continue to restore our knowledge and ways of living as tribal nations.

More Thoughts on Being Native

This morning I woke up thinking about a dream I had where I was telling someone about the tribal colleges and tribal people and he didn’t believe me. He acted like we couldn’t possibly be so culturally different and dismissed my remarks as if I was telling him something that was not important – I think he was someone who worked at the UN. I even got someone to go back with me so I could share my anger at his treatment, I think it was my therapist, although I don’t have one. That was a very strange dream.

But it made me think about the fullness of my past week as an example of how we live our lives as Lakota people, as Indigneous people. I am home on the Rosebud for the first time in several months. We came home for a visit and for the 136th annual fair. This has been a busy week of seeing family and friends, visiting our relatives at the cemeteries, and attending events. It is more than visiting and special occasions because each of these experiences comes from a different understanding of ourselves as human beings and how we live well together.

Like most I have many friends from all different kinds of experiences and backgrounds. I am especially honored because I have women friends called maske, sister friends. What is different about this is that we Lakota have a name for them, maske, sister friends, we know as Lakota women that when you call each other maske you are calling forth a special relationship. Many people call me Auntie, Tunwin or Grandma, Unci. When I hear the voice of someone calling me that whether or not we are blood relatives, my whole self immediately becomes that person who is their Auntie or Grandma. We show each other mutual love and respect when we call each other by relative names. We do this because our kinship is the foundation of who we are as tribal nations. Our kinship teaches us how to live together.

We made a trip to Mato Paha, Bear Butte. Many people go there to hike up the trail because from the top of the butte you can see for miles in all directions. The horizon curve of the earth can be glimpsed from there. Native people go to Mato Paha to pray and to offer tobacco to the spirits who come there to hear the prayers of the people. We go there to look off into the distance to the sacred places of our emergence as human beings and to be with the prayers of all of those who have climbed the trails and stood there in prayer for thousands of years. I have been wanting to go back there for years and this time it felt like a necessity as I gather my prayers for our new journey. It was not a trip to just take in the view or to prove I could walk uphill.

The 136th annual Rosebud Fair, Wacipi and Rodeo was also this weekend. As I sat at the dance arena, I remembered being a teenager and walking around the pow-wow grounds in an endless circle visiting (and of course flirting with all the boys – I am pleased to see this is still done). When I was young there were not lots of food stands and vendors so we would have to go back to our grandparents camp for bologna sandwiches and pop. I think that was how our parents made sure we checked in. I got my Indian name, Wacinyanpi Win, They Depend on Her, from a family naming ceremony at Rosebud Fair that my Grandma Alice Cadotte held the summer I was 16. We saw relatives who only came home for the fair. There were vegetable displays and other homemaking contests with jellies and pies. There are Indian dances and white dances with country/western bands. There is a championship rodeo where the fearless horsemanship of our people is showcased. Now there are more modern events, carnivals and mud races but it is still at its heart a gathering of people who are related to celebrate our victories in battle, to show our finest artistry and craftsmanship, to share food, friendship and the end of summer.

Everyday as tribal people we live a life built from Creation stories that honor our shared existence on the earth, we practice rituals like feeding of the spirits or smudging ourselves and our homes because those were taught to our ancestors in dreams and visions and they passed it on to us. We have everything we need to know about how to live well together and on our grandmother earth, Unci Maka, right in front of us. We only need to open ourselves to these teachings, to observe and practice them ourselves to lead healthier, more prosperous lives.

Belonging in A Place

It is such a pleasure for me to come home to the Rosebud. Up until I moved away in 2002, it rarely occurred to me that I might live somewhere else. Once when my kids were young, I gave serious thought and put some effort into moving to Lincoln NE for a job. It didn’t work out although I still think Lincoln would be a great place to live. Moving to WA in 2002 was prompted both by Tess living over there and the opportunity to serve as President at Northwest Indian College. When we moved it took me months if not years to feel ‘at home’, and I admit that I never did feel the same type of connection to the people and land that I feel when I come to Rosebud. Now in many ways, I am making fleeting trips here, coming for a week or two and engaging in the semi-whirlwind activity of visiting friends and relatives and taking drives to places.

I am reading a book recommended by a friend, Quiet by Susan Cain and it prompted me to think more deeply about my own way of being. I have long considered myself an introvert in an extrovert’s role and her book has given me some language to describe myself.

I learned many years ago that I am a person who appreciates the quiet of time with myself, through walking, writing and reading. Lately that has included sewing which I especially like because of its creative outcome. I remember when I would find a place off the road and lie down on the prairie grasses or beneath pine or cottonwood trees and I would be silent, listening to the wind and brushing bugs away from my body. I always appreciated the quiet of my own bedroom where I kept my books and wrote in my journal while my kids and their friends watched TV and played in the other rooms.

This recent move to Denver and my years of living up at Lummi, helped me think about my own sense of place and how I create that and bring my own self into it. On the Rosebud, I always felt physically present, in the seasons and with the rhythm of community and cultural events. In my family, I felt that I had to be outgoing to be heard in the “noise” of family matters. When I got older I was surprised when people mentioned how talkative I was because it took such effort. Susan Cain says that there is some evidence that an introvert who feels passionately about a personal cause can learn to be more extroverted. That might be me, I feel so strongly about tribal colleges that I am willing to walk up total strangers and invite their support. I didn’t name it but now I realize that I sought the help of extroverts to make that access happen for me even though I am more than happy, even honored, to tell our story.

When I come home it is those moments when my eyes rest on the horizon, or I am walking in the cool morning air or the hot afternoon sun with the heat pressing against me, when I am writing and sitting quietly, that I am most at peace. I am reminded that all we want for ourselves as Lakota people is right here, all our foods, our medicines, our kinship and our ways of knowing, are inside and on this place. It can be a hard life because of poverty and all of its ramifications, but it is a life of possibility as well.

I am aware that this sense of place, of belonging, is one of the important qualities that all of us as Indigneous people must maintain. We must preserve regardless of whether we are reservation, rural or urban Indians, the place of our belonging.

Supporting Research – Building TCU Intellectual Capacity

I had the opportunity to listen to some of the research and projects of the Sloan and Mellon Fellows and Scholars associated with the American Indian College Fund over the last two days. (Regretably an appointment with an electrician and travel to SD prevented me from hearing all of them, something I will have to try to remedy.)

What a pleasure it was to hear about the remarkable place-based or culturally specific research being done by these scholars. I look forward to the publication of the research conducted by this group as well as the previous cohorts. There is a real need among the TCUs to develop our ability to support research all the way through publication. Publication helps us ensure that what we learn is accessible to students and other scholars.

As I listened to both Native and non-Native scholars who are all associated with the TCUs, I reflected on my experience in the late 1990′s with the emerging commitment of the tribal colleges to community based and participatory research. At the time of the Tribal College Journal hosted research conference at Orcas Island during an AIHEC summer retreat, we were just beginning to see the connection of our role as teaching institutions and the necessity of being part of the emerging field of place based tribal research and scholarship. Our tribal ways of knowing always existed and were the foundation of the tribal colleges’ vision and programs. In the early days our focus was on our workforce and influencing the educational environment of our reservations including teacher education and human services. In recent years, the expansion of our missions to include land protection and natural resources management, business and entrepreneurship and the sciences along with land grant programming broadened our research capacity. The evolving capabilities of our Native scholars has resulted in more focus on connecting traditional knowledge or ways of knowing to modern issues and organizational experiences.

One of the great things about the Sloan and Mellon opportunity is that AICF brings tribal scholars into deliberate and focused contact with experienced researchers through both the mentoring program and gatherings like the retreat. Malia Villegas of the NCAI Policy Research Center, Ed Galindo, University of Idaho, Rita Asgierrson of NWIC and Tarajean Yazzie Mintz with AICF all provided insights of their experiences with research and mentorship. I listened as scholars considered how to frame their research questions, how to conduct research within the context of tribal community, and how to use processes like institutional review boards to their advantage.

Some of the scholars while employed at TCUs are conducting research that impacts a broader learning community than reservation or tribal communities, they have drawn in Native students as researchers and interns. One outcome that I observed is the interest by Native scholars in the action based research model of studying how their practices of teaching impact student learning. Three ideas I heard that resonated with me were the use of oratory practice to develop greater understanding of and comfort with science, the development of texts and courses that promote tribal values and the commitment of tribal students to preservation of land and cultural knowledged and the relationship of cultural classes to student academic success. The retreat provides a place for our scholars to think about their work.

In many ways the Sloan and Mellon program participants are the result of 40 years of the development of research as a component of TCU missions. This is especially true of the Native scholars whose maturity and experiences prepared them to conduct research that applies to their tribal communities, that address critical needs and community issues and which contribute to the body of knowledge of indigenous ways of knowing.

To learn more about this opportunity for tribal college faculty and students, contact Ken Wilson at the College Fund.

Reflection 1 – urban Indian living

Reflections on place (1) – living urban and feeling a sense of place

I am going to try for at least a monthly reflection on what it means to me to live in a big city. This is the first.

Having finally reached the 2-week mark of living in our new urban setting, I am finding myself prepared to begin my reflections on what it might mean to me to live in a city. We have a cocoon of a home, located in a nice, middle class neighborhood near shopping and major cross-roads. You don’t realize the importance of cross roads until you want to tell others where you live. They can place you by the cross streets in much the same way that rivers, trees and hills marked the location of our villages in the past. People nod with understanding when you tell them your cross streets.

Although a neighborhood resembles a small town, streets with a variety of (covenant protected) houses with parking and walking paths, shops and services, it lacks the knowledge of each other that small towns have. I find it ironic that the covenants so valued by neighborhoods in the city create homes that all resemble each other, very similar to HUD housing on our reservations. Paint colors, similar windows and doors, roofs and other characteristics remind me of the cluster housing brought to our reservations in the 1960′s and which are still the norm today.

It took time but our people have objected to the lack of choice in housing on our reservations. They have also objected to how location of housing in an environment where housing is limited created situations where families were forced to move from their communities of relatives to live next door to people they had limited connection to. Connections may evolve over time but they are not naturally present in those settings. That is true in the city as well, connections must be made deliberately, the setting doesn’t create connections naturally. The neighborhoods like the one we live in are not naturally conducive to relationships.

I am lucky because I have relatives here including an aunt and uncle, John and Joyce Compton and their family and the family of my late Uncle Sidney and Aunt Dolly Whiting, I look forward to spending time with them. We will never have to be lonely not only because of them but because lots of Indians live in Denver.

I appreciate the location of Denver, between the mountains and plains, embedded is a diverse landscape with access to the food systems of the west. When I am taking a walk, or driving somewhere, there are open spaces and lovely views of the mountains, truly majestic in their presence. We are close enough to Rosebud to just get in the car and be home in hours, close enough to our grandchildren to be an easy day’s drive. We can fly anywhere.

We are getting ready to reach out to others who have made a life for themselves here. They will guide us on this path, giving us advice and support, be our friends and relatives. We anticipate they have a sense of place.