Native Youth Share Their Experiences at Student Voices Session

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown February 22nd, 2015 Last Updated on: February 22nd, 2015

As part of the School Environment Listening Tour, a nine-city tour in seven states designed to identify the impact of school environment on young Native Americans, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was able to sit down with 15 young Native Americans to hear their concerns about education in their communities.

Here are some of the quotes from the students Duncan met with, as reported on the U.S. Department of Education website:

“When native students have a space for cultural continuity in an educational setting, they are tremendously more successful,” commented Laree, a Lakota and Oglala undergraduate student from Wisconsin.

Blue and Kele, siblings from Oklahoma, are members of the Cherokee Nation and of Osage and Choctaw descent. They stressed the significance of their participation in Operation Eagle, a cultural and community group for native youths. Despite the existence of programs like this, however, they highlighted the fact that education about their culture needs to extend beyond their native community.

Blue recalled from one community event that, “volunteers came in wearing headdresses and paint on their faces … one kid had a Halloween costume of a native American. … They need to teach the kids that not everyone has a headdress; you have to earn everything … I just think it would be better to have them learn.”

Autumn, a high school student from the Pokagan Band of Potawatomi Indians, described a similar experience. Her high school mascot is the chieftain – an offensive Native American caricature – and the derogatory term “wahoo” is used for the yearbook and school dances. While these harmful images had caused many of her native friends to lose interest in school or drop out, Autumn said that she couldn’t really be mad. “It’s not [non-native students’] fault – they’ve been programmed to think we are savages by the history they’re taught.” Autumn agreed that a more inclusive history should be taught to all students.

Let's hope this dialogue will help improve the environment at schools across the country and help keep our Native youth in school!

Photo via U.S. Department of Education

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About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.

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Laurie Covarrubias

“Every child deserves a champion—an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” -Dr. Rita Pierson (1952-2013)
These young Native student are living examples of what it mens to be change makers. Many are presently navigating the struggles of being Native in public education, yet they still have the strength, courage, and responsibility to speak the truth. Unfortunately, many of the children in our communities continue to suffer in silence while trying to cope with the racial discrimination and cultural bias’ that are rampant in public schools and classrooms. Another generation should not have to go this alone.
Please consider advocating on behalf of the present and future generations of Natives in education by filing a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/qa-raceharass.html The US Department of Education is listening. ‪#‎NativeLivesMatter‬


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