Monday, May 12, 2008

Ojibway leader blames racism for holding back natives

Here is a recent Anishinabe news story (May 8th), posted on the front page of the local Sault Star (Bawating):

Ojibway leader blames racism for holding back natives — COMMENT ON THIS STORY
Posted By Michael Purvis

Racism, passed down over generations, still prevents native youth from getting the kind of education they deserve, says a prominent Ojibway educator and an early leader in the American Indian Movement.

Eddie Benton-Banai addressed teachers, principals and school administrators from a variety of Northern Ontario boards on Thursday as the keynote speaker for a two-day symposium hosted by Algoma District School Board.

"I think the biggest (barrier) is long-standing stereotypes, generational racism as well," Benton-Banai told media. "People don't like to disagree with grandmothers, grandfathers even fathers and moms, you know."

He told of confronting one school board in the United States on its failure to pass any native students over a nine-year span.

"They never addressed the problem, but they came up with the classic answers: 'Well, you know those Indians, they don't want jobs. All they want to do is draw welfare, and the girls all they want to do is become pregnant so they can have bigger welfare cheques,' "said Benton-Banai. "Those were the answers from white, civilized, well-educated school boards."

"That wasn't true then, and it's not true today. . . . So those of you in education: deal with those stereotypes that you have been given from your parents and your grandparents," he said.

Benton-Banai pointed to another barrier, an overwhelming North American mainstream culture that is fortified by religion and politics, and to the "continuing exclusion," of other cultures from education.

There should be "curriculum about other people, not just about native people, but about other people. We don't know enough about each other and I think that's a big barrier," he said to reporters.

The government is working to correct those issues, said Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, who toured local schools on Thursday and was to address the symposium that evening.

"What I would say is, it is starting to happen in Ontario because we do have now this aboriginal education framework; there's more funding for native programming, and so that's the kind of work we're doing," said Wynne. "Are we finished? No, we've got more to do but we're off to a good start."

Wynne said a line has been added to the funding formula, with $15 million in ongoing funding set aside for programming in aboriginal education.
Chief Lyle Sayers, of Garden River First Nation, and Chief Dean Sayers, of Batchewana First Nation, told the symposium that curriculum based on the history of First Nations people in this region would go a long way toward engaging students.

Benton-Banai told the crowd that the American Indian Movement, which gained notoriety in the early 1970s with its bold approach to protest, "sprang to life" behind prison bars, with an idea "that we must build our pride (that) we cannot walk around these streets or work in these factories and work on these jobs without knowing who we are."

"From that small movement came a bigger movement that rolled onto the streets of Minneapolis, where the police were treating native people like the Gestapo treated the Jewish people in Germany, where every Friday and Saturday the police wagons and trucks rolled up to any place where Indian people congregated and threw them into the vans and into the trucks and trucked them off to jail, week after week after week," said Benton-Banai.

He said the resulting movement spread to other parts of the U.S. and led to what is now known as Anishinabe education.