Dedicating this song ‘Commencement Day’ from the Blue Scholars of Seattle to “the class of two thousand whatever” throughout Indian country and all “the teachers who are underpaid” and love their students enough to keep on teaching.
As families prepare for the graduation ceremonies at local schools and universities that Indigenous students attend, their home communities are also preparing summer internships and youth employment activities as well.
Extended relatives bead, sew traditional and contemporary Indigenous clothing, and feasts are prepared. The pride and joy that parents and families of graduates feel is that righteous “they made it” kind of emotion that counters the statistics of Indigenous youth.
What may seem like a little victory to non-Indigenous people who have fourth generation college graduates in their family legacies, is actually counting coup for Indigenous families. In fact, graduating a child from high school that includes acceptance into college with a full ride scholarship IS an Indigenous family’s dream come true!
For a first world country, education ought to be viewed as a right and privilege. As it stands, where the education, health and the welfare of society is concerned, the US fair’s better than other countries. Considering there are youth that have to dig through trash for survival and war is a daily occurrence, waking up alive is a victory. When put in that light, in the US, when Indigenous communities are graduating youth that is quite a privilege.
The fact that the outside world looking in sees certain parts of the US as a dreamscape conflicts me at times, mostly because the world is not informed of the realities that Indigenous communities are subjected to. Media portrays us to live in third world conditions, where education, health care, and housing is believed to be “free.”
The reality is that in the US, Indigenous youth struggle successfully graduating from public schools. And when they do, it is a marvel considering curriculum does not reflect beyond a paragraph or page, an accurate portrayal of the history and genocide of the original people of this land.
As an educator in preparation for qualifying exams, I reviewed the curriculum of several states that claim culturally relevant and responsive curriculum regarding Indigenous education. I found two states that have successfully implemented (at the legislative level) culturally responsive curriculum. For more information here are the links: Montana Indian Education For All and Washington Since Time Immemorial.
As I reflected on the last thirteen years of working in Indigenous education and my own formal education, there has been some change, however not a whole lot regarding curriculum. Based on that fact alone, successfully graduating Indigenous youth from high school and college is indeed a HUGE victory. Eagle feathers, feasts, and stories of struggles of not dropping out will be shared for the next generations to come.
As we move forward into the 21st century as nations, we will continue to graduate youth from high school and members of our home communities from college. I ask that we begin to think with revolutionary minds and plant the seeds of revolution. That being said, revolutionary acts begin with freethinking. Be more than informed and be educated, and begin to question the education systems that have dismissed the real histories and education of our Nations.
Defying the odds and rewriting curriculum through our collective consciousness and lived experiences is further proving that we are actually more than a paragraph and/or page in their rendition of education and history. We have a deep rich heritage grounded in Indigenous knowledge that our ancestors taught since time immemorial.
For high school students who will be attending PWI’s (Predominantly White Institutions) I challenge you to interrogate yourselves but also question the instructors, textbooks, and institutions that tell you Indigenous people are a statistic. For those high school graduates who are fortunate to attend a tribal college or university such as Haskell Indian Nations University or IAIA: fists to the sky! To the college graduates (as you enter the working world) interrogate yourselves and continue to challenge a system that tells the world our people and communities are poverty porn, racial mascot stereotypes, and destined for a life of victimhood.
In closing, today we are exactly what those settler colonialists and white supremacists who wrote the education and history of our Nations feared. We are indeed powerful Nations and learned to read through the lies they have been writing and teaching. We are everything they feared and dreamed possible especially because we know our truths. They have for too long kept our people on display as “artifacts” in museums as if we are relics of the past. On the contrary, we are our warriors and we are our ancestors.
Congratulations and continued success to all the graduates throughout Indian country, you have counted coup.
Renee Holt is Diné from the With the Rock clan and a member of NiMiiPuu Nation. As a mother and doctoral candidate at Washington State University, she is enrolled in the Cultural Studies and Social Thought program, with research focus in decolonization through culturally responsive curriculum. While at WSU she works with the Clearinghouse on Native Teaching & Learning and the Center for Mestizo and Indigenous Research and Engagement.