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.