Education | Opinion

Toni Tsatoke: Students want the real truth about Native history






A marker along the Trail of Tears Monument in Illinois. Photo by J. Stephen Conn

Toni Tsatoke, a member of the Kiowa Tribe, isn't sparing her students at the University of Oklahoma the truth about genocide, a history that includes the Trail of Tears:
Today, we revisited the era of the Indian Removal Act and specifically the impact that President Andrew Jackson and the IRA had on the indigenous people of the southeastern region of the United States. At the end of the lecture, I shared a dramatic segment of a documentary which gave a powerful and visual representation of what the Trail of Tears really was and is…the dreadful “G” word, genocide, that we as “American citizens” really don’t want to be associated with. Historical accounts estimate that over 5000 people perished during that single initiative, and even conservative estimates have to acknowledge that at least 4000 NATIVE Americans died…more than the tragic death toll of 9-11.

The visual that my students was left with was described from an actual written account by a New Englander who observed a woman carrying her dying baby in her arms. And as many times as I’ve lectured and discussed the difficult topic, as a Native person, and as a mother, it never gets easier. In fact it gets harder because the more experience I gain in my life, the more I realize how precious life is and how difficult it must have been to live as an indigenous person during that time period. Yes, we still live in a violent world, but we don’t live with the same threats as our forefathers did. We deal with “micro-aggressions” and “stereotypes” and yes, racism, but to ponder a day and time when there was such indifference to dead or dying children. Just flip the page of your social studies book and move on.

It’s a painful part of our collective history and even after 170 or 180 years, it’s a loss and hurt that real people can still feel and relate to. I always remind my students that learning a more whole American history that includes the indigenous perspective isn’t a means to create sympathetic non-Indian people. Moreover it’s the only way to educate and result in an informed people as a whole because after all most American Indian children are public school educated with the rest of mainstream America.

Read More on the Story:
Toni Tsatoke: Today Was Gratifying for This Teacher (Indian Country Today 10/5)

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