Friday, November 17, 2006

My Views on Indian Education (Part One)

Since completing my teacher's program in 2002, my views on Indian Education have altered completely. Much like everything else in my life it seems. In the past two years, a whirlwind has swept through my world and has cleared a path...


After my swift departure from the Nebraska Department of Education in September of 2004, I took some time to reflect on that experience. First of all, I must give the NDE credit for providing numerous training opportunities and for helping me to develop many new skills. During those two years I also cultivated many contacts in my travels throughout the education world. But two realizations were made very clear to me that fall. The first was that I was sorely lacking in knowledge on tribal educational sovereignty and I decided to pursue this knowledge, relentlessly. The second was that after all the years of going to college and working around the clock, I had hardly spent time with my four children. We hardly knew each other anymore. And, I decided to remedy that as well.

How I Arrived on TEDNA's Doorstep...

In October, 2004, I began researching tribal educational sovereignty by reading what books I had at the time and by finding any articles connected with this topic. Then it occurred to me to contact David Beaulieu, Director of the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University. David suggested that I contact Melody McCoy, one of the staff attorney's at the Native American Rights Fund who focuses on tribal education rights. He also suggested that I attend the Tribal Education Departments National Assembly forum or workshops at the National Indian Education Association conference that year in Phoenix.

I made up my mind to attend NIEA and called up some favors from several sources. My friend and associate, Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer of Native Waters provided me with the airline ticket. My cousin and best friend, Elke Chenevey covered my expenses. And, the Nebraska Indian Education Association paid for my registration fee since I was serving as the president of this organization at the time. I also had friends to stay with in Phoenix, Geri and Keith Casoose whom I hadn't seen in several years. Once everything fell into place, I was on my way.

Now what I was feeling then was a lot of unresolved anger and bitterness from my experience with the NDE. I had actually filed lawsuits against two individuals for discrimination in June of that year. It's difficult still to explain all the factors involved with what had happened. Later that summer, I had also been instructed by my spiritual advisers to let go of the lawsuits and to be kind to my enemies and not to be like them. Yet, there was a part of me that wanted to do battle and wreak destruction upon those whom I felt had violated me. These feelings of rage provided the impetus to become involved with TEDNA.

When I arrived at the NIEA conference, I went to the Opening General Assembly, specifically to hear the keynote by Wilma Mankiller. She spoke about our rights to self-determination especially in the education of our Native children. This is when I first heard her quote that whoever controls the education of our children, controls our future. I was most inspired by Wilma's powerful words and when she finished, everyone stood in a standing ovation. And, as I looked around the entire audience of this huge exhibit hall, all I saw were Native educators like me. I felt a renewal of my wounded spirit, and for once I did not feel alone.

That very same day, I also attended a workshop by Howard Rainer, whom I have known since I was 19. Howard has always been very supportive of everything I do. However that afternoon, I felt reluctant to walk into his workshop because I knew he was going to have a message for me that I probably didn't want to hear. So, there I was, trying to sneak into the room but unfortunately I was the last one to walk in. If anyone knew what was going on in my life at that time, it was Howard. He had been around throughout that year providing training on the Omaha Indian Reservation to all the students. And, he was well aware of what I had been through. Sure enough, as soon as I took my seat, he fastened those eagle eyes on to me and shifted his speech over to the topic of forgiveness and letting go of vengeful feelings. Howard looked at everyone in the room and said that when someone hurts us, we should not look at them and say "I'm going to get you!" When he said this, he stood there shaking his finger with a glare in his eye, and of course, he zeroed in on me again. We should find ways to turn a hurtful situation into a good one, he told us. This is what he has done throughout the years in his travels whenever he had encountered such people. Usually, he found that the person or persons who tried to hurt him were feeling hurt themselves.

Sometime during Howard's presentation, I started crying. I understood the message he was telling me and it was the same one I had heard from my spiritual advisers. But I was conflicted because for the first time in my life, I wanted to be vengeful even though I knew it wasn't right. I left his workshop feeling emotionally drained but thoughtul.

The next day, which was my main reason for attending NIEA, I located the Tribal Education Departments National Assembly - Why Your TED Should Join workshop. Melody McCoy was the lead presenter, with co-presenters, Jerome Jainga, Quinton Roman Nose and Joyce Silverthorne. This was my introduction to tribal educational sovereignty. There were many people in there representing different tribes. I learned so much information that afternoon that I felt my spirit was raised even more. When Melody said that TEDNA needed volunteers, I signed up immediately! I had this driving desire to learn all that I could about tribal educational sovereignty.

Returning Home...

Now returning home in the aftermath of NIEA and all that I had experienced there, I was faced with the dilemma about what I should do about the lawsuits I'd filed against these certain persons, etc. I felt so conflicted for several days. Howard's words kept ringing through my head every minute it seemed. Of course, I knew he was right, just like I knew my spiritual advisers were right, too.

So, at last, I made my decision and I contacted the NDE Attorney, Brian Halstead and set up a meeting. I gave this meeting a lot of thought. At first, Brian wanted me to come to the State Office Building in Lincoln to meet but I suggested that we meet in Macy instead. It came to mind, that since I was dealing in something that was so serious that I held people's professional futures and livelihoods in my hands, I wanted to be on my own ground when I dealt out the decision I had come to. I invited Brian to meet at the Omaha Tribal Headquarters.

It was a good strategy. He knew it, too. When we sat down in the Omaha Tribal Council's meeting room. I felt completely at ease and confident. Brian asked me if I would give permission for him to record our conversation and I replied yes. So, we started in. He asked why I requested this meeting and I told him that I wished to withdraw the lawsuits against the two individuals because of my spiritual beliefs. I told him that I hoped that a better understanding would develop between the non-Native and Native peoples. When it was all said and done, I looked at Brian and saw that he had tears in his eyes. And I was surprised because all this time, I'd thought he was a hardened, tough-as-nails, attorney. He appeared to be human after all.

Summing It Up...

When I walked away from that meeting that day, I did so with a sense of relief mixed with regret. I asked myself whether I did the right thing? And, I concluded that by listening to my spiritual advisers, they must surely have known something that I didn't. All I could do then was to leave it all in their hands and look to my children.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

First Posting...At last!

Today I decided that it was time to began my documentation of the upheaval I've been through this past year. Been trying to do this since August actually but I had too many other events taking place til now. And, since I like writing so much and am often at the mercy of my own perplexing thought processes, why not publish them here? It's an excellent outlet for my often radical ideas.

A Relative's Worries...
Early this morning, I received a visit from one of my cousins. He came over to share his concern about one of his brothers who's in the hospital in Omaha, fighting off a staph infection that is life threatening. I listened to his worries and tried to offer what encouragement that I could. In situations like this, I listen first, then process, then act. After sleeping on it, I woke up a few hours later determined to make prayers for my relatives.
I prepared myself as I usually do, smudging off the room and myself, then I sat down to compose my thoughts. I started by acknowledging the four directions, the Sky and the Earth, and the here and now, the Center. And, as I was in the middle of this process, my mother arrived. So, I paused in my prayer and invited her in so we could talk. I told her of what I'd learned earlier this morning. So, she joined in with prayers for the recovery of our relative.

Mother's Story
My mother is one of the strongest women I know. It's only been in the last year that I've really come to fully appreciate her wisdom. Before the cataclysm that totally rearranged my life this year, I took her for granted, something I will never do again. Now, I can see where I need her the most and she's made it clear to me that she is here for me and my children.
I read all the time about historical trauma and the misery that has resulted from the genocide of our people committed by the non-Natives. But it's by listening to my mom recounting her life experiences that I began to develop a clearer perspective of what has happened to all of us.
My mom was born in 1937 at the Winnebago Hospital. She is the oldest daughter of parents who split up when she was a baby. Her father went to war and her mother eventually died of tuberculosis. She was raised by her Grandma and Grandpa (Great Aunt and Uncle) and spoke only the Omaha language until she was sent to school at the age of 7. When she was 9, hard times began for her after her Grandma died from digestive complications. Bereaved by her Grandma's death, she then looked to her Grandpa for comfort and direction. He continued to raise her with strict Native values. It was during this time of great change that her father came home from WWII, and with him he brought alcoholism and physical abuse.
I've listened to her describe her father's sickness and how he would strike out at her and her sister for any perceived wrongs. Back then there was no help available for her father's Post Traumatic Stress Disorder nor was there any help available for my mother. Her Grandpa did the best thing he could do and had her and her sister placed in boarding school at Pipestone, Minnesota.

My Story...
When I listen to my mom's life stories, I often cry with her. To know what she has endured has definitely helped me to keep my own life in perspective. After facing the inevitable this past spring when my husband decided to leave us for a new life in Canada, I dwelt for a time in a mist enshrouded landscape which seemed unending. When I emerged from this traumatic state in July, a stronger, better, and happier woman, I made decisions for myself and my children. Decisions that are now coalescing into a wonderful reality.

Life Presents Many Gifts...
Much of my healing has been happening throughout this year. Longtime friends have stood by me faithfully, as well as newly made ones who seem to be on a similar path as mine. One such friend is Christopher, a non-Native, who is a recent addition to my circle of relatives. I was happy to hear from him on Friday, it gave us a chance to catch up on each other's lives. He lives in New York and is a playwright and a professor at NYU. One of his current projects is on the Ponca Chief Standing Bear, to be published in three years time. Since meeting Christopher in August, we've formed an alliance that is based on mutual respect and admiration for one another's writing abilities. He's honored me with a request to review his journals about his life-changing experiences over the summer. This too is to be published as a play sometime soon.

A Point...
So as I am making my way on my healing path, one point I wish to make is that I do not see myself as a sacred person or such. I am only striving to live with my spiritual commitments each day as the Creator sees fit. And, this is only a part of what I wish to write about here on my blogsite.

All my relations!