May 23, 2014 - “To the Class of Two Thousand Whatever” by Renee Holt
Dedicating this song ‘Commencement Day’ from the Blue Scholars of Seattle to “the Class of two thousand whatever” throughout Indian country and all “the teachers who are underpaid” and love their students more than enough and keep on teaching.
As families prepare for graduation ceremonies at local schools and universities that Indigenous students attend, their home communities are also preparing summer internships and youth employment activities as well.
Extended relatives bead, sew traditional and contemporary Indigenous clothing, and feasts are prepared. The pride and joy that parents and families of graduates feel is that righteous “they made it” kind of emotion that counters the statistics of Indigenous youth.
What may seem like a little victory to non-Indigenous people who have fourth generation college graduates in their family legacies, is actually counting coup for Indigenous families. In fact, graduating a child from high school that includes acceptance into college with a full ride scholarship IS an Indigenous family’s dream come true!
For a first world country, education ought to be viewed as a right and privilege by each and everyone, however that is not always the case. Oddly enough, when it comes to the education, health and the welfare of society, the US fair’s better than other countries. Considering there are youth that have to dig through trash for survival and war is a daily occurrence, waking up alive is a victory. When put in that light, in the US when Indigenous communities are graduating members of their communities that is a privilege.
Although, the fact that the outside world looking in sees certain parts of the US as a dreamscape conflicts me at times, mostly because the world is not informed of the realities that Indigenous communities are subjected to. Media portrays us to live in third world conditions, where education, health care, and housing is believed to be “free.”
The reality is that in the US, as a community we actually struggle with successfully graduating our youth from public AND federally run schools. And when they do, it is a marvel considering public school curriculum does not reflect (beyond a paragraph or page), an accurate portrayal of the history and genocide of the original people of this land. As for the federal run schools, the lack of funding to provide the basic needs and hiring of quality teachers and resources is on going.
Recently, while preparing for qualifying exams, I had the responsibility of reviewing the curriculum of several states that claim culturally relevant and responsive curriculum in Indigenous education. I found two states that have successfully implemented (at the legislative level) culturally responsive curriculum. For more information here are the links: Montana Indian Education For All and Washington Since Time Immemorial.
When I reflect on the last thirteen years of working in Indigenous education (and my own formal education), there has been some change, however not a whole lot regarding curriculum. Based on that fact alone, successfully graduating Indigenous youth from high school and college is indeed a HUGE victory. Eagle feathers, feasts, and stories of struggles of not dropping out will be shared for the next generations to come.
Moving forward into the 21st Century, as Nations, we will continue to graduate youth from high school and members of our home communities from college. The thought of our communities doing more and bigger things that challenges the status quo with revolutionary minds will someday become reality. Revolutionary acts such as freethinking and being more than informed, but educated begin with questioning the education systems that have dismissed the real histories and education of our Nations.
Defying the odds and rewriting curriculum through our collective consciousness and lived experiences is further proving that we are actually more than a paragraph and/or page in their rendition of education and history. We have a deep rich heritage grounded in Indigenous knowledge that our ancestors taught since time immemorial.
For high school students who will be attending PWI’s (Predominantly White Institutions) I challenge you to interrogate yourselves but also question the instructors, textbooks, and institutions that tell you Indigenous people are statistics. To the college graduates (as you enter the working world) interrogate yourselves and continue to challenge a system that tells the world our people and communities are poverty porn, racial mascots, and depict stereotypes that our Nations are destined for a life of victimhood. To the teachers and instructors of students, Thank You for your daily acts of believing in our youth and graduates, your tireless efforts are appreciated.
In closing, I believe its important to note that today we are exactly who the settler colonial-white supremacists that wrote the education and history of our Nations feared. We are indeed powerful Nations and learned to read through the lies they have been writing and teaching. We are everything they feared and dreamed possible especially because we know our truths. They have for too long kept our people on display as “artifacts” in museums as if we are relics of the past. On the contrary, we are Nations, we are warriors, and we are our ancestors.
Congratulations and continued success to all the graduates throughout Indian Country, you have counted coup.