“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it.” —Bruce Lee
It’s in our blood, family. It’s in our very DNA.
I’ve had the good fortune to speak at approximately fifteen graduations this year. It’s been amazing to see the diversity of many, many Natives who are excelling within this educational system. As many graduates as I got to speak to, I didn’t get to speak to all. I respectfully ask you to pass this on to any graduate you know because this is what I would say if I got the chance to speak to every Native graduate:
As John Mohawk brilliantly articulated, “Culture is a learned means of survival in an environment.” As such, cultures necessarily must change because environments change and thus the devices required to survive within those environments change.
An ironic syllogism with the power to create Nations.
Ironic because the US education system—intended to kill the Indian spirit and thereby dissolve Native nations into the mainstream (assimilation, a purpose to which it is still largely dedicated)—have become the tools to ensure survival for Native people individually and Native nations collectively. Now, through education, Tribes have the ability to develop individual Native talents to build the community infrastructure/resources/networks to grow Native nations stronger and more resilient.
Brilliant. Educational jiu jitsu, martial arts—redirecting the United States’ assimilative energy to strengthen Native communities. Fulfilling John Mohawk’s prophecy—keeping culture alive through education. You guys can do that.
Native grads, please recognize that you all come from noble histories of FORMAL education. That’s right—“formal.” Many people would lie to you and say that Native people have not had much success in educational systems. Those are filthy lies and are intended to make you think less of and devalue the powerful educational structures of your ancestors and also to second-guess your ability to compete in these western institutions. You can compete. In fact, you SHOULD succeed and excel. Education is in your genes—follow me for a second:
1) Native people, for tens of thousands of years, developed individual talents for the benefit of the community.
2) The way that many of those communities developed that talent was via “societies” or guilds that were constructed to develop expertise in a particular discipline (seamstressing, hunting, war/fighting, fishing, medicine/healing etc). These societies were formalized and structured (and oftentimes involuntary), not just a bunch of Indians running around naked in the woods.
3) Those societies taught the individuals the VERY BEST PRACTICES of how to be successful within that discipline.
4) The Natives who were educated within that discipline were expected, in exchange for that education and support of the community, to contribute to the community utilizing the tools learned during that education.
5) For example, when a young person grew up in a hunting society and developed an expertise in hunting, they didn’t learn to hunt simply to feed themselves. No, they were expected to provide also for their family and for the community at large.
6) Those societies were interdependent—e.g. the hunters’ hunting skills were useless without having the proper shoes fabricated from the seamstressing societies. And all societies needed the medicine societies for when the inevitable injuries came.
I reiterate: Native students, FORMAL education is hardwired in your DNA through tens of thousands of years of survival.
Every time you feel like you can’t go on, like the pressure of school is getting to you or that your upbringing didn’t prepare you for school, remember that. You are not the first smart Indians—you are not the first Indians to struggle with education. All of us are simply small cogs in a LONG, LONG line of educated Natives who’s communities invested in them and their educations knowing that you will someday help and serve your community. All the resources that Tribes are sinking into education nowadays—the grants, the scholarships, the help—they’re keeping up with their long tradition of cultivating individual Native talent for the benefit of the community—in a changing environment.
Native students…it’s in your DNA. Jiu jitsu, redirecting energy. Education was supposed to dissolve our communities, but you’re going to use it as a means to protect them instead.
You got this; Native people are the martial arts artists of survival. It’s in your blood. Proud of you.