In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two . . .

By Lenore ThreeStars

It’s a little tricky to be Unci (Lakota for ‘grandmother’) to a first grader when Columbus Day rolls around.  We had already processed the ‘what makes the red man say ugh’ scenes in Peter Pan, pointing out the differences between what someone imagines about Indians to what we really look like and do. Gathering some resolve,  I mentioned to my takoja that he will probably hear in school that Columbus discovered America, but  that is not really true because native people already lived in the land where Columbus landed, which really wasn’t America.  Still, one cannot explain to a first-grader the Doctrine of Discovery that dehumanized native people, like his Unci, to the point that they were meaningless and entirely disposable.  In fact, last year, I spoke to a history class of high school juniors and they also were not familiar with the insidious legacy of Manifest Destiny.  I began by quoting in a sing-song voice, “In fourteen hundred ninety-two …” and they readily responded, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  I asked them, “Whose history are we learning?”

One of my friends is an Indian Education Specialist taking hits on the front lines of an urban school district.  I asked her what native parents are saying about their relationship with the district. Quick reply, “They don’t understand us.  They don’t have to get to know us”  This speaks to many things, including cultural competency.  It doesn’t work for schools to tell native families, “we don’t see color.”  Well, then you don’t see me at all.  Families and districts are left with conflict, misunderstanding, and distrust. What one could take time to understand is that many native families (and other minority groups, too) are fighting every day with lethal effects of intergenerational trauma.  Examine how much has changed for Indians even in the history being taught, and then consider the harm of assigning a social studies project that required students to  answer, “how would you go about conquering a group of people?”  Hmm, look around my reservation …  This assignment deeply disturbed a native student and family for reasons that should be apparent but turns out the district “didn’t have to get to know them.”

In Caenisha’s earlier post on changes needed in higher education, I agree with her statements: The cause of civil rights is taught as an issue of our past, disregarding the continued legacy of Native genocide, immigrant exclusion, slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration.  So let’s be honest about the cultural fabric of America and acknowledge the shaping of race on history…”  I see hope in her thought  that change can be born in “the everyday relationships, interactions and experiences between students, staff, and faculty.”   To do this, we will be people who don’t have to but want to get to know each other.

I appreciated Michelle’s eye-opening post that “super incarceration is in fact new age slavery,” and “we need to find out way out of unjust access to education.”   We also need to find a way out of unjust education and teach the entire truth, including how this country treated the native host people of this land.  When we teach and learn the whole truth, maybe we can move forward together and leave a more just history behind us.

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2 thoughts on “In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two . . .

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  1. Hi Lenore, I am beginning to understand how as a white person who was a history major in college, I was so blind to all that was left out and the white, western viewpoint of almost all I read and studied. I am purposely seeking to read from other views on the same periods and events and hope that in our schools and universities today a much more inclusive story of all viewpoints are equally valued. If not this really needs to be addressed, and the Church should take the lead. Thank you for your words.

  2. Hi Ronna, your comment is very encouraging! I have to say that the white, western viewpoint is what I studied too, and now my takojas are as well, which is why I’m trying to add to their education. The shock of learning what was left out of my education was personal because it was about me, my family, my people. We didn’t make it into history books. I’m glad we have an oral tradition so I can share the pain with my ancestors. Sometimes folks recognize an injustice and ask, “what can I do?” I love that you are already planning what you will do, and you are willing to know. It will help.

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