From Indian Country Today:

Luci Tapahonso (Navajo) wrote the text for a photo essay in the July 2016 issue of Smithsonian magazine: “For More Than 100 Years, the U.S. Forced Navajo Students Into Western Schools. The Damage Is Still Felt Today.”

She opens, “At the beginning of Navajo time, the Holy People (Diyin Dine’é) journeyed through three worlds before settling in Dinétah, our current homeland.” After describing the formation of the Dinétah physical world, she says, “Today, in the fourth world, when a Diné (Navajo) baby is born, the umbilical cord is buried near the family home, so the child is connected to its mother and the earth, and will not wander as if homeless.”

Tapahonso, now poet laureate of the Navajo Nation, writes from her roots. She was born and raised in Shiprock, the town where I first encountered Native culture, as a lawyer for Dinébe’iiná Náhiiłna be Agha’diit’ahii —the Navajo legal services program.

The Smithsonian essay focuses on the infamous boarding schools, where Native children were kidnapped from their families and forcibly inducted into American culture under the rubric, “kill the Indian, save the man.” The notion of “saving” arose from the Christian missionary complex that attended the entire boarding school assimilation effort.

Christians approach life from a starting point of “sin,” and see themselves—and all Creation—as in need of being “saved.” All too often, in trying to kill the Indian, the children themselves were killed. Mass graves are still found on old boarding school grounds. “Saved” by death.

The boarding schools were a knife stabbed into families and clans—the heart of Indian Country. The government and churches in Canada have acknowledged all this in what they call a “reconciliation process,” though it needs to be asked what “reconciliation” means when anti-Indian policies still exist.

United States government and churches have done far less—in most cases, nothing at all comparable to the acknowledgment of wrongdoing in Canada. For whatever reasons, Native people in the U.S. seem comparatively willing to let the wrongdoers go unnamed and unaccountable.

Tapahonso doesn’t wade into the “reconciliation process.” With her usual incisive writing, she chooses instead to focus on the survival of Native Peoples from the boarding school experience; albeit, survival that carries deep scars, passed from the children who were kidnapped to their children. “Today those [boarding school] students are parents and grandparents. Many hold onto a lingering homesickness and sense of alienation. Others are beset by nightmares, paranoia and a deep distrust of authority.”

Tapahonso tells her own stories of surviving a mission boarding school, and recounts the legal history of the 1928 Merriam Report and a 1969 U.S. Senate report, which constituted “major indictments” of the boarding school system. “It would be several years,” she writes, “before widespread changes would take hold.” By 1990, “tribal involvement in education had become the norm.”

I have the Navajo to thank for beginning my education in what it means to be a human being. My encounters in Navajoland set me on a path that changed my legal career and my life.

I recall one example related to Navajo schools: I had just spoken in the Teec Nos Pos Chapter House about the community taking control over the local school. When I finished my talk, which was being translated by Frank Begay, a Navajo Tribal Court Advocate, several people spoke. Frank said, “They want to know more.” I began to discuss the general plan for Navajo legal services. He stopped me: “No, that’s not what they’re asking about. They want to know about you. Where were you born? Do you have any brothers and sisters? Things like that.”

I was flabbergasted. American society—and especially law school—isolated professional work from personal life. I felt shock and surprise. I was embarrassed. I was thrilled. The people were looking at me as a human being, not just as their lawyer.

After that first experience of being cared about as a person, I worked with Frank a lot. We traveled to meetings together, sometimes hours away. He told me stories about places we passed, about people, about what it means to be human in the Navajo cosmos. I learned to see the world with new eyes.

One morning, months later, a family arrived outside my house. They said they were there to have an argument. They didn’t want my legal services, but my presence as a person. All day they stayed around, talking out whatever it was that had erupted among them. I never knew what it was, whether it was a legal problem or something else. By day’s end, they had resolved something, and they left. Their presence was an honor and a blessing.

You can tell the Smithsonian editors had trouble figuring out how to present Luci Tapahonso and the photographs by Daniella Zalcman without angering U.S. politicians who vote their budget: Although the essay subtitle focuses on “how native populations had a new nation foisted upon them,” the overall section title steps back from the acknowledgment of force and separate nationhood: It reads, “American Exiles: Leaving Home: A series of three photo essays explores how America has treated its own people in times of crisis.”

“Leaving home” sounds tame—even romantic—compared to “forced.” Moreover, Navajos and all other Indigenous Peoples of the continent are not America’s “own people.” The boarding schools were one element in a long—and still ongoing—effort to make Indians disappear as nations, to force them to become Americans. Many have succumbed.

If the Smithsonian were really to present the full history of U.S. treatment of Indigenous Peoples, the exhibit would be named “American Holocaust.” That would stir up even greater anger in the U.S. Congress than the 1995 controversy about the museum’s atomic bomb exhibit, or its 2003 exhibit about the Arctic and climate change.

We can be thankful that Luci Tapahonso’s essay made it through the gauntlet.

Peter d’Errico graduated from Yale Law School in 1968. He was Staff attorney in Dinébe’iiná Náhiiłna be Agha’diit’ahii Navajo Legal Services, 1968-1970, in Shiprock. He taught Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1970-2002. He is a consulting attorney on indigenous issues.
Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/07/25/luci-tapahonso-boarding-schools-smithsonian

Written by Peter D’errico 

With graduation around the corner, this is a good time to remind everyone about the flyers TEDNA and NARF created.  Two flyers were created to assist students and families in their quest to wear an eagle feather at their graduation ceremony.  The first trifold flyer is for students and families and serves to provide guidance on working with School Districts to make the request.  The second trifold flyer is an informational flyer for School Districts to inform them about the significance and importance of the eagle feather to graduating students.

An excerpt from the first flyer:

Every year, Native high school students across the country seek to express their individual and tribal religious beliefs and celebrate their personal academic achievements by wearing an eagle feather at their graduation ceremonies. While most public school districts permit Native students to wear eagle feathers at graduation, some school districts do not allow it. This guide provides information for students and families on steps they can take to ensure that the graduate can wear an eagle feather during the commencement ceremony. It is based on approaches we have found most successful in addressing this issue.

News stories here and here about the Commission’s latest meetings.

An excerpt from one:

Military veteran Stan Snow captivated the audience with his storytelling ability, sharing the name of the bomb squadron he was a part of in 1954: The Devil’s Own Grim Reapers.

The name might be offensive, Snow said, but when the B-52s shielded Americans from their enemies, people would be happy.

Snow decried political correctness, and praised the warrior spirit, and in the end, he pleaded.

“Please, please, don’t take it away from them,” Snow said.

There was clearly an age gap in the opinions of the roughly 60 audience members in attendance. The younger ones, save for a little girl who spoke first, fell strongly in the camp of tossing the mascot — or, at the very least, reaching out to tribes to make Eaton’s depiction more accurate and authentic and less of a caricature.

The older audience members leaned more toward tradition, keeping a logo that has been a part of Eaton since 1966.

Here. An excerpt from the Executive Summary:

To improve education for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students, tribal leaders, educators, and Native youth called upon WHIAIANE to collect information on school environment experiences — from teachers, parents, community members, and the students themselves. Tribal leaders and tribal communities wanted members of the initiative to hear about the challenges these students face in gaining high-quality education, with a focus on the quality of their school environments.

To meet this need, WHIAIANE, in collaboration with OCR, worked with tribal leaders and communities to design and execute a series of nationwide listening sessions regarding the school environments of AI/AN students. In October and November 2014, nine gatherings were held in seven states from New York to California to Alaska.

These sessions drew over 1,000 attendees in total and allowed WHIAIANE and OCR to gather information from all stakeholders in AI/AN education. WHIAIANE acted as a listener, allowing students and others to speak openly about their school environments.

“You just have to be you, and you just have to be real. The only way to change things is to hear from real people,” said Valerie Davidson, trustee of the First Alaskans Institute, who served as the moderator for the listening session in Anchorage, Alaska. WHIAIANE imparted similar instructions at each session in an effort to encourage a safe environment for participants to share their stories.

Throughout the sessions, the initiative collected information about the challenges related to school climate, including bullying, student discipline, potentially harmful Native imagery and symbolism, and the implications of all of these school climate issues. With regard to Native school mascots and symbols, the initiative is aware that some people strongly favor retaining their school mascots. During the listening sessions, however, initiative staff members did not hear this viewpoint; thus it is not reflected in this report.

WHIAIANE found feedback from these sessions invaluable in forming its recommended next steps. The initiative further expects that information from these sessions will guide its future work and goals — to address the unique and culturally related academic needs of AI/AN students and to ensure that they receive an excellent education.