Ivan Star: Successes and failures in Indian education system

The following is the opinion of Ivan F. Star Comes Out. All content © Native Sun News.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out

Looking at our failures and successes in the Indian educational system
By Ivan F. Star Comes Out

I have been admonished (more than once) for trying to bring our history into the classroom here on the Pine Ridge. The gist of these retorts seemed to indicate that I would rile our youth needlessly and deter them from “a good proper education.”

A Lakota school teacher once said she feared producing “generations of radicals” by teaching her students about the hidden facts of “Indian” history.

Those perverted/obscured facts of our history include the deceitful manner under which the Indian Reorganization Act was coerced upon the Oglala in 1935, the premeditated massacre of unarmed Lakota at Wounded Knee in 1890, the ambush/slaughter of Cheyenne people at Sand Creek in 1864, the great national ruse of claiming the United States Constitution as an exclusive American creation.

A direct result of this planned destruction by the government has many undesirable effects for Native America. Several generations have and continue to endure the results like academic underachievement and high dropout rates among our youth, alcoholism, domestic abuse, single parenthood, drug trafficking, and a general mistrust and loathing of authority among the populace.

Anyway, I did not respond immediately to the open criticism but kept the experiences for reflection. I will point out though that their cautious dispositions are logical. However, if we want to understand our present situation here on the Pine Ridge, we must look to our past. We must become aware of our successes, failures, and current problems. Then and only then can we move on.

As a culturally distinct group of people, we must understand that our education system is a product of the social, economic, political, and religious history of the new nation. We must “see” that throughout world history it was always the dominant nations that wrote the history books. It is no different here as evidenced by the inaccuracies, distortions, and omissions of the “Indian” in American history textbooks.

We must be aware of the evolution of education itself. For instance, Colonial education was originally religious and was for Whites only. The latter half of the 19th century produced tax-supported public education and was open to all children but with a strong emphasis on American identity and loyalty. Equal education for minorities and women did not always exist.

“Indian” education, as we know it today, began with the introduction of treaties during the 1800’s. And as such, education was conducted by the new nation’s government under the banner of Manifest Destiny. In other words, indigenous languages, cultures, and histories were federally banned and the parochial and government schools earnestly carried out their task of obliterating them.

Originally, education was for the purpose of converting the heathen “Indians” over to Christianity. The focus of federal education was to domesticate the “uncivilized” natives. At the same time, we must be aware that although treaties mandate the federal government to provide educational services in exchange for millions and millions of acres of land, education was not what our ancestors expected.

It wasn’t until 1969 that Congress became somewhat humanely involved with its report “Indian Education: A National Tragedy.” A series of legislative bills ensued. The year 1972 is considered to be a landmark year that established a wide-ranging approach to meeting native educational needs. The Indian Education Act (1972) was basically a formula to be used by “Indians” to obtain money for “Indian” children.

In 1974, Public Law 93-380, amended the previous act to include teacher training and a fellowship program. 1975, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (P.L. 93-638) allowed tribal groups to acquire increased control over the management of federal programs, including schools. No. 5 Day School (Loneman) became the first on the Pine Ridge to do so.

In 1988, P.L. 100-297 made all Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded schools eligible to apply for formula grants and added an authorization for Gifted and Talented. In 1994, P.L. 103-382 reauthorized the Indian Education Act (Title IX, Part A of ESEA) requiring a comprehensive plan to meet the academic and culturally related academic needs of American Indian and Alaskan Native students.

In 2001, P.L. 107-110 saw the reauthorization of the Indian Education as Title VII, Part A of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The grants are to challenge state academic content and student academic achievement standards that are used for all students and designed to assist students in meeting these standards.

I had to accept the fact that our educational system did not come into existence overnight. I realized that what we have is not perfect and that we must apprise ourselves of the historical development behind it. Without this awareness of our past, we are driving blind. We end up chastising our native teachers, administrators, and school board members needlessly often blaming them for our educational “failures.”

It’s been a long time coming but I am beginning to see change in our home land schools. My hope is high in the possibility that we have arrived at an educational crossroads in our history.

On one hand, we have people who would rather accept the status quo and not delve into the truths of “Indian” history. I must point out the fact that such people are continuing the national phenomenon of altering and/or hiding “Indian” historical facts and events to fit the biased Manifest Destiny doctrine. On the other, we have a fledgling few who are now looking to our future as Lakota people.

We have a very long way to go yet but I believe we are now beginning to look in a new direction regarding the future of education in “Indian” country. How long it will take for us to come full circle depends on the people. It may take another 500 years to get ourselves out of this situation.

Hunkpapa leader, Tatanka Iyutaka (Sitting Bull), knew what he was transmitting to his people with his quote, “Let’s us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” The concept is easy enough to understand but getting together to achieve it is the major deterrent. The prejudiced principles of Manifest Destiny are deeply rooted among a significant percentage of Lakota people.

(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; 605-867-2448; mato_nasula2@outlook.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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