Yesterday night, I went to Barnard Campus to attend another lecture of Native American Heritage Month: The Miseducation of Settler Colonialism: Challenging School Curricula. College students, professors, and locals packed the classroom to maximum capacity. Sara Chase, a founding member of AlterNATIVE Education, and Jehad AbuSalim, NYU Gaza Strip resident, led the discussion and talked about their experiences in context of the topic. The lecture began with a Birzeit University student film: Permission to Narrate (click the link for the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xb3O5qOLNv8).
It focuses on the struggles that Palestinian communities face in the Middle East in regards with their education, culture, and narrative. The problem is that Palestine communities throughout the Middle East do not have equal access to education and control over their narrative, history, and culture.
Sara Chase talked about how colonialism also affected Native American’s narrative, history, and education in the United States. She said that her school in the reservation made it to the worst ranking in terms of education in the United States. Native students learn from history books about Euro-American culture, politics, government, and economics. But in these books, not one single paragraph speaks about Native Americans prior to 1492. Some history textbooks contain a page or two that describes Native Americans being conquered by Euro-Americans and wiped out before the 1800s. Little is said about their accomplishments prior to 1492. Nothing is said about Native American culture and people in 2013.
Native students have a higher chance of dropping out of high school and immersing into the world of drugs and depression. Also, Native students who graduate from high school most likely won’t find jobs in the reservations. They have two options: stay or leave the reservation.
Sara Chase also mentioned that this was a two-fold issue. American students do not learn about the genocide that took place in the United States since 1492 in their curricula. Instead, they learn the good stuff like American Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, the accomplishments of Congress, Senates, and Presidents, and so forth. Nobody talks about the bad stuff either. Nobody thinks about the stolen lands we walk on everyday. The United States contributed a large portion of their time in wiping out Indigenous people off the map. This perpetual cycle of ignorance affects the way Americans view Indigenous people. They think we don’t exist and it’s easy to see why. We are outnumbered. We are like shadows in our lands. We are in reservations where no one could see us. Their ignorance is the number one reason they get away with labeling mascots after our ancestors and wearing our regalia and sacred feathers as Halloween costumes.
In the 19th century, boarding schools took care of killing our culture, our stories, our ceremonies, and our languages. Their motto was to “kill the Indian, and save the man.” Kids were physically ripped away from their families and sent thousands of miles away to boarding schools. In these schools, Native students learned how to be servants to Euro-Americans. They did not learn Greek or Math. They learn how to scrub toilets, instead. Teachers verbally and physically abuse Native students for speaking their Indian language. Guess what? These students happen to be our grandparents today. They remember the beating, the trauma, and the fear.
And our parents are the lost generation. They have no clue what their narrative, their culture, their language, and their ceremonies are and what they all mean. They walk, breath, cry, and live on Mother Earth like empty souls with no Indian culture.
Like mixed-Indigenous people in Central and South America. They think they know their history, their culture, and their dances. But they worship Catholic Saints, dance Merengue and Salsa, and adore Euro-mestizo celebrities, aspiring to be as light as their skin and as rich as their families. The unfortunate reality is they leave no room for Indian culture in their hearts. When I was a kid, my paternal grandmother took care of my cousins and me. One day, I heard her talking about the latest celebrity gossip. She yapped about every celebrity in the list. Then, the conversation shifted to Spanish heritage. With a presumptuous tone, she said, “My family is Spanish. We have blondes and wealthy relatives in Ecuador. You see my hair…natural blonde.”
I was six years old and I knew her hair was not naturally blonde. She dyed it blonde, but that did not mean she was Spanish. She was brown just like me. Her mother was brown just like me, too, and her hair was black. Her ancestors wore two braids and a poncho at one point in the past. What Spanish heritage did we have? This was the same experience I encountered with most Latino families. They talk about the mythical stories of how a Spanish relative owned counties, haciendas, and gold in Ecuador or in South America, but quickly deny any mixing with Indigenous or African heritage. But they looked just like me. I think they are in denial of their obviously Indian features, ancestry, and background. I think the reason is they also hurt like our North American Indian brothers and sisters and they do not want to admit it or see it.
The real story of our mixed-Indigenous past is as painful as it gets. Some of us have Spanish blood because some of our grandmothers were raped. Some of us have Spanish last names because some of our ancestors had to kill the Indian in us and assimilate. Some of us speak Spanish fluently and dance Merengue or Salsa because the Spanish got rid of our Indigenous ceremonies and rituals. This is the story of our people in North, Central, and South America, and it’s not a cute story about how Mr. Alvarez fell in love with a beautiful Indian Maria in a hacienda.
So what does that make us as the next generation? What do we do now?
As Sara Chase pointed out on her presentation, there are three phases in Native American history:
Pre-Contact: Native history before 1492-1600s
Colonization: Genocide, assimilation, boarding schools, Dawes Act
Resistance: 500 years later, we still stand and resist together.
That’s what we do. We resist and stay strong. As Native leaders, we mentor, lead, and protect the new generation of Native Americans across the nation. In order to do this, we need to spread the message to the youth to have control of our own narratives, our own stories, our own ceremonies, and our own language.
This is what I am doing with this blog. I hope to inform Native Americans in my community and Mixed-Native Americans in Latin America that re-claiming a history, a culture, a narrative of your own people is the first step. It runs in your blood and your heart pumps that Native blood every minute you live, every breath you take, every time you blink. Personally, I identify as Indio even though my identity has been stripped, my language has been taken away, and my people’s ceremonies has been replaced with Catholic rituals. But when I look at myself in the mirror, I see brown. I see the souls of my ancestors in my eyes.
The re-claiming process can be challenging because sometimes I wonder why it feels so strange to speak my native language in place of English and Spanish or why it feels so “wrong” to re-arrange my thought process according to my Native beliefs, traditions, in my day-to-day life. Waking up every morning and giving thanks to Tayta Dios and Pachamama is a whole different spiritual concept for me since I adapted my ancestor’s culture. But it feels good. It feels like it’s me. It feels like I’m finally home.
Sara Chase has her own way of resisting, too. She is a founding member of AlterNATIVE Education. She and her colleagues formed this group as a postscript project of a spring 2013 class, “Approaches to Contemporary Native American Education.” After learning about Native education in our own communities and communities across the nations, they believe that a 61% high school graduation rate among Native Americans is everyone’s concern. They have developed a weeklong summer curriculum for high school students to be provided at no cost to participating tribes/volunteers. The curriculum is aimed at engaging students with Native histories, Native governments, Native arts, and Native current events, topics that are not talked about often enough in the classroom. They hope to expand on-the-ground efforts to more tribes, creating chapters at more universities, at no cost to the participants and their families.
Please donate: http://igg.me/at/AE