Army general Richard Henry Pratt is seen here with an Indian boarding school student, circa 1880. Pratt was the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and advocated the Kill the Indian -- Save the Man approach to the education of Indian children. Photo: U.S. Military Institute, U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Ivan Star Comes Out: Keeping Indian Country oppressed seems be the norm today

We should be learning our history from inside out

By Ivan Star Comes Out
Native Sun News Today Columnist

As an old adage states, “You have to keep school before you can teach school.” In other words, a teacher must have the attention of the students before he/she can teach anything. Doing so can determine a teacher’s effectiveness, but more importantly, it’ll have a more optimistic and constructive effect on our youth.

I am not a trained teacher by any means but I can “see” that a good teacher must first control the classroom in order to establish an environment that is favorable to learning. I’ve seen professional educators on the homeland blame their student’s errant behavior in the classroom to be the result of an adverse home and/or community environment. After all, the Pine Ridge harbors an unhealthy economy.

It is true that an economically disadvantaged home environment hinders student progress. However, it does not need to be the sole conclusion. I “see” some professional teachers lack adequate classroom management skills, and many times use culturally inappropriate disciplinary methods. Sadly, it is the native students who are unjustly punished and/or eventually removed from the school.

This is reminiscent of the purpose of the government boarding schools during the 1800s. The old “Kill the Indian and save the man” policy is still implemented in our modern classrooms and the worst part about it is that our educators are unaware of it.

I mentioned this to various educators on various occasions and some common responses are like, “These are modern times,” “Why are you living in the past?” and “We have to forget the past and move on.” Somehow, the passage of time alone is supposed to change things for us. Perhaps we are expected to completely forget our past, which the foulest thing we can do to ourselves.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

In other words, we are blindly forging ahead when we should be learning our history from the inside out and not what we have been told by a government whose only purpose was to either eliminate and/or subjugate the “Indian.” Keeping Indian America oppressed seems be the norm today, and again, no one is aware of it.

Getting rid of students is much too easy to do and adds to the ever-present high dropout rates and low academic achievement levels among our native students. I’ve seen that not all professionals are trained to create a learning environment for our “Indian” students.

I am not bashing our education professionals, parents, or schools boards, rather I would like for everyone to take an unbiased look at the overall situation and make an effort to improve it. We have been separated from each other for a very long time, since the 1800s, and that is what is important to acknowledge here.

For example, all involved must realize that we have a dire need to work together. We have to stop bashing our administrators, teachers, and local board members and start supporting them. Parents must do whatever is in their power to assist with developing that important teacher-student rapport or bond.

As for academics, “Indian” students have been predominantly exposed to an “English education” since the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty was signed. Academics are not the problem and there is not much more that can be done to make it better. The real problem originates from a long list of related situations that have steadily contributed to our negative educational statistics.

Our students are simply not taking to the existing system of schooling and there are reasons for it. One very important element that has been missing and is still lacking is the parent. Our Lakota students also need cultural identity if they are to accept “English” academics. This vital disposition can be accomplished with Lakota language and cultural teachings, not more academics.

More importantly, the parent community must stop chastising the teachers, the school, and the board, and show and tell their children that what they do in school is important. Also, ensure them that obeying rules is important as it prepares them for adulthood. I do encourage parents to visit their children’s classroom and see what they are learning so they may participate in making change(s) in the long run.


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Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at

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